Iraqi forces engaged Monday in armed clashes with Islamic State militants near villages bordering Mosul, part of an offensive to liberate Iraq’s second-largest city from the extremist group, an official told dpa.
“The federal police are now heading from Qyyarah base towards two villages south of Mosul ... [from which] most of Daesh commanders fled and went to Mosul,” Shaker Jawdat, the commander of the local Federal Police Forces said, referring to Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced early Monday that the long-awaited operation to free Mosul from the Islamic State extremist organization has begun.
Mosul, which is located in Nineveh province, is the largest city controlled by the Sunni extremist group. It had a population of more than 2 million before the conflict.
The battle is expected to be a decisive moment in Iraq's fight against Islamic State, which al-Abadi has vowed will be driven out of the country this year.
Earlier in the day, Kurdish Peshmerga forces liberated seven villages bordering Mosul after launching an attack on three fronts, Peshmerga spokesman Brigadier Halgurd Hikmat said.
The villages include Kurdish, Arab and Christian ones, Hikmat said, adding that fierce fighting between the two sides is ongoing.
Peshmerga troops are fighting alongside Iraqi security forces to dislodge Islamic State extremist militia from Mosul.
Peshmerga forces also took control of the main roads near al-Hamdaniya district and advanced about 4 kilometres towards the Assyrian town of Bartella.
Peshmerga spokesman Jabar al-Yawar told dpa that the operation started at 5 am (0200 GMT). “Our forces are constantly advancing ... I can tell you now that we are advancing to reach our goals," he said.
Islamic State overran Mosul in mid-2014 at the beginning of a lightning offensive that saw it seize swathes of Sunni Arab northern and western Iraq as Iraqi army and police units collapsed in the face of its onslaught.