Iraqi forces push toward Mosul, Shiite militias join battle

Laura Christensen
October 31, 2016

The announcement comes a day after the paramilitary umbrella organisation dominated by Iran-backed militias announced that it had begun participating in ongoing campaigns lead by the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi army to liberate the city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters; engaging in an offensive to capture the town of Tal Afar, west of the city.

Iraqi forces said today that they recaptured a series of villages surrounding jihadist-held Mosul as the operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group neared its third week.

The twin thrusts come almost two weeks into the offensive to retake Iraq's second largest city, but most of the fighting is still taking place in towns and villages far from its outskirts.

The involvement of Shiite militias in the Mosul operation has been a source of contention, although some of the Hashed's top commanders insist they do not plan to enter the largely Sunni city.

But Tal Afar, where the militias are now focused, is itself a risky flash point, analysts have said.

"But there are villages on the way that need to be liberated before reaching Tal Afar", Asadi said.

"After two years and three months in exile, I just celebrated the Eucharist in the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception the Islamic State wanted to destroy", Yohanna Petros Mouche, the Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, said.

The United Nations has warned of a possible humanitarian crisis and a potential refugee exodus from Mosul - though the start of operations on the city's western flank could leave Mosul's civilians with no outlet to safety, even if they are able to escape IS control.

More diversionary attacks are expected as Isis members infiltrate urban centres in sleeper cells by pretending to be some of the expected hundreds of thousands of people who will be displaced by fighting, several Iraq officials have said. The struggle to kick out the extremists has been long-anticipated since they stormed into the city in 2014, driving out a much larger Iraqi force, albeit one that was demoralized from neglect and corruption.

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He added that the operation was launched from an area south of Mosul.

"Intelligence reports show that the Daesh (IS) groups have entered TOW missiles systems into Tal Afar".

The operation will likely cause alarm in Ankara as Tal Afar is close to Turkey and has a sizeable ethnic Turkmen population.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, a suicide bomber targeting an aid station for Shiite pilgrims killed at least seven people and wounded more than 20, police and hospital officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief reporters.

He also said the Popular Mobilisation forces, who have already fought in Syria, would cross the border into Syria to support him again once they had "cleared" IS from their own country.

Turkey will take all necessary measures allowed by worldwide law to counter any threat from Shiite militias to Turkmen in Tal Afar, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday, according to the Anadolu news agency.

The PMF's entry into the Mosul offensive represents an ongoing convergence of U.S. and Iranian interests in battling ISIS, and comes as general hostility between the two countries has eased somewhat.

So far, the Iraqi security forces have inched to the eastern fringes of Mosul, and made progress on other routes around the city, preparing to storm the city and drive out the IS militants.

Other reports by My Hot News

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