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Military operation to retake Mosul has begun: Iraq PM

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Operations to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group have begun, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced early on Monday over state television.

“The time of victory has come and operations to liberate Mosul have started,” he said in an address broadcast by the Iraqiya channel.

Abadi, the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, was surrounded by top federal officers as he read his statement.

Iraqi federal and allied forces have been tightening the noose on Mosul, IS’s main stronghold in the country, for months.
They recently retook key positions around Qayyarah, a town 60km south of Mosul, setting the stage for a final push on IS’s northern bastion.

Abadi did not provide details of the military operations launched overnight.

A senior US general warned that victory in IS’s last major stronghold in Iraq could take time.

“This operation to regain control of Iraq’s second-largest city will likely continue for weeks, possibly longer,” Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition battling IS, said in a statement on Monday.

“This may prove to be a long and tough battle, but the Iraqis have prepared for it and we will stand by them.”
Thousands of Iraq’s Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on IS-held villages east of Mosul on Monday as part of the broad-based battle.

“The operation in Khazir includes up to 4,000 peshmerga in three fronts to clear nearby IS-occupied villages,” the general command of the peshmerga said in a statement.

It said the operation was coordinated with Iraqi federal forces moving from the south and had received extensive air support from the US-led coalition.

Peshmerga commanders said the push was the third phase of an effort that started months ago to retake villages in the Nineveh plain that were captured by IS in 2014 and used to be inhabited by members of the Christian and Kakai minorities.
Mosul and its surroundings cover a vast area and the various – sometimes rival – forces involved have some distance to cover before they can enter the city proper.

Abadi vowed that only government forces would enter Mosul, a Sunni-majority city that IS seized with relative ease in June 2014 partly because of deep local resentment towards Shia-dominated security forces.

“The force leading liberation operations is the brave Iraqi army with the national police and they are the ones that will enter Mosul, not others,” he said.

Shia militia groups have been accused of serious abuses against Sunni civilians in the course of operations to reconquer territory from IS.

The Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary organisation, which is dominated by Tehran-backed militia groups, has made clear it wants to take part in the Mosul operation.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been moving in from the eastern side of the city, while a US-led coalition is also providing support in the air and on the ground.

The IS militants are not thought to exceed 5,000 and will be outnumbered, but the battleground is vast and the area’s ethnic and religious diversity makes it politically complex.

“Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh (IS),” Abadi said, addressing residents of the Mosul region.

The assault on Mosul, backed by the US-led coalition, may be one of the biggest military operations in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Mosul is the last major stronghold of IS in Iraq. With a pre-war population of about 2 million, the city is the largest that IS has controlled since it declared a “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.

The US envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, tweeted: “We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation.

“PM Abadi issued orders to initiate major operations to liberate Mosul after two years of darkness under ISIL terrorists,” McGurk said in a message on Twitter.

“Godspeed to the heroic Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and Ninewa volunteers,” McGurk said.

[Source: Middle East Eye]
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