Iraqi forces "liberated" a major air base from Islamic State militants on Saturday, coming closer to the extremist militia's stronghold in the northern city of Mosul, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.
The air base of Qayyara is located around 50 kilometres south of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, which has been under Islamic State control since mid-2014.
"This is an important base for the liberation of Mosul," al-Abadi said in a statement.
The facility will be the launch pad for a long-delayed offensive to retake Mosul, around 400 kilometres north of Baghdad.
Last month, Iraq announced retaking full control of the western city of Fallujah from Islamic State, in a major setback to the al-Qaeda splinter group.
"We routed the Daesh followers in Fallujah, who fled like rats in the desert," al-Abadi said. "We will crush them in Mosul."
Earlier on Saturday, governor of the northern Nineveh province, Nawfal Hamadi, said Iraqi forces stormed the air base of Qayyara after encircling it in a dawn operation.
"Security forces, tribal fighters and the anti-terror elite have managed to take full control of Qayyara base after all Daesh elements fled, leaving behind most of their equipment and weapons," Hamadi told dpa.
Spokesman for the anti-terrorism forces, Sabah al-Numan, said that at least 38 Islamic State insurgents were killed in the operation.
The attack was mounted under air cover from a US-led alliance, al-Numan added without giving casualties among government forces.
Footage on local television stations showed soldiers clad in combat fatigues dancing in joy over recapturing the base.
The announcement of regaining the facility comes in the wake of two attacks inside and north of Baghdad that left more than 300 people dead.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks that triggered public outrage against the government for alleged security inefficiency.
In response, al-Abadi sacked senior Baghdad security officials on Friday and accepted the resignation of the country's interior minister hours later.
Sunday, June 26, 2016 - 15:53
Saturday, August 13, 2016 - 16:09
Thursday, August 25, 2016 - 12:25