BAGHDAD,— Iraqi troops and Shiite militia backed by by air power from a U.S.-led coalition and Kurdish peshmerga forces launched a long-awaited operation on Thursday to recapture second city Mosul from jihadists of the Islamic State group who have held it since June 2014, the military said.
The army and the Popular Mobilisation paramilitary force “have begun the first phase of conquest operations” in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, the joint operations command said in a statement.
Several districts have already been retaken and the advance is continuing, the statement added.
The joint operations command has representatives from the US-led coalition that has provided air support, training and military advisers for the Iraqi army.
Peshmerga fighters of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region have also been heavily involved in the campaign against IS in northern Iraq.
Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers deployed to the Kurdish region in February in readiness for the assault on Mosul, setting up base in the Erbil province town of Makhmur, around 70 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of Mosul.
“Iraq forces in Makhmur have begun their advance towards Al-Qiyyara to the south of Mosul,” the peshmerga deputy commander for the sector, Araz Mirkhan, told AFP.
“The advance has allowed us to liberate four or five villages from the Daesh terrorists,” he added, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
“Iraqi security forces in Makhmour … are beginning to expand the forward line of troops,” said Colonel Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition.
Thursday’s advance brings Iraqi forces closer to the oil town of Qayyara on the banks of the river Tigris, control over which would help to isolate Hawija from Mosul.
A military statement on state TV said “The first phase of the Fatah (Conquest) Operation has been launched at dawn to liberate Nineveh, by liberating a number of villages and raising the Iraqi flag,”
The spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, says Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, on Thursday.
It’s Iraq’s second-largest city and it fell to Islamic State group during the militants’ June 2014 onslaught. Mosul is also the largest city in the Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate.
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