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Iraq Launches Operation To Retake Mosul From Islamic State

RFE/RL October 17, 2016

A long-awaited military operation to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group has started.

Reports said artillery could be heard in the area early on October 17, as U.S.-led coalition air strikes sent plumes of smokes into the air.

Government forces were moving from the base of Qayyarah, some 60 kilometers south of Mosul, while Kurdish Peshmerga fighters advanced from the east.

Kurdish forces say they have gained control of a number of villages in their advance.

The battle to retake Mosul, which has been under IS control since 2014, is the largest military operation in Iraq since U.S. troops left in 2011. It has been planned for months.

If successful, it would be the biggest setback yet for IS militants.

The UN has expressed "extreme concern" for the safety of up to 1.5 million people in and around Iraq's second-largest city.

Announcing the launch of the operation, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said, "The hour of victory has come."

But the operation to regain control of Iraq's second-largest city "will likely continue for weeks, possibly longer," warned Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the coalition battling the extremist group.

Addressing the residents of Mosul, Abadi declared the "start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh," using an Arabic acronym for the extremist group.

Abadi, dressed in a military uniform and surrounded by Iraqi officers, vowed that only government forces would enter Mosul, a Sunni-majority city that been under IS control since June 2014.

"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," Abadi said, in reference to Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias that will not be involved in the operation.

Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias have been accused of serious abuses against Sunni civilians in the course of operations to reconquer territory from the IS group.

Before Abadi's announcement, Brigadier General Haidar Fadhil told the AP news agency that more than 25,000 troops would take part in the offensive.

The general command of the Peshmerga said the operation included up to 4,000 Kurdish fighters clearing IS-held villages east of Mosul.

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

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the operation was key to defeating the extremist group.

"This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat," Carter said in a statement, using a different acronym for the group. "We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL's hatred and brutality."

Carter promised continued support for Iraq.

The U.S. envoy to the U.S.-led coalition against IS, Brett McGurk, said on Twitter, "We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation."

It was from Mosul that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a so-called caliphate in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Thousands of leaflets have been dropped in the last few days warning residents that the operation would be under way soon.

The UN's deputy secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, Stephen O'Brien, said as many as 1 million people could be forced to flee their homes because of the operation.

"Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women, and men may be under siege or held as human shields," O'Brien said in a statement. "Thousands may be forcibly expelled or trapped between the fighting lines."

Thousands of leaflets were dropped in recent days warning residents that the operation would be underway soon.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Source: mosul-syria/28057848.html

Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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