Iraq forces launch operation to cut off Mosul

2016-10-29 18:01
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Al Qayyarah - Iraqi paramilitary forces launched an operation on Saturday to cut the Islamic State group's supply lines between its Mosul bastion and neighbouring Syria, opening a new front in the nearly two-week-old offensive.

Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary umbrella organisation dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, have largely been on the sidelines since the launch of the operation to retake Mosul.

But on Saturday, they began a push on the town of Tal Afar on the western approach to the city, the only side where ground forces, which have advanced from the north, east and south, are not yet deployed.

"The operation aims to cut supplies between Mosul and Raqa and tighten the siege of (IS) in Mosul and liberate Tal Afar," said Hashed spokesperson Ahmed al-Assadi, referring to ISIS's main stronghold in Syria.

Assadi said the operation was launched from the Sin al-Dhaban area south of Mosul and aimed to retake the towns of Hatra and Tal Abta as well as Tal Afar.

Source of contention

The drive toward Tal Afar could bring the fighting perilously close to the ancient city of Hatra, a Unesco world heritage site that has already been vandalised by ISIS.

Though it was not mentioned by name, the operation may also pass near the ruins of Nimrud, another archaeological site that has previously been attacked by ISIS.

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

Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arab politicians have opposed their involvement, as has Turkey which has a military presence east of Mosul, despite repeated demands by Baghdad for the forces to be withdrawn.

Relations between the Hashed and the US-led coalition fighting ISIS are also tense, but the paramilitaries enjoy widespread support among members of Iraq's Shi'ite majority.

Tal Afar was a Shi'ite-majority town of mostly ethnic Turkmens before the Sunni extremists of ISIS overran it in 2014 and its recapture is a main goal of Shi'ite militia forces.

As the Hashed push on Tal Afar got under way, Iraqi forces battled ISIS in Al-Shura, an area south of Mosul with a long history as a militant bastion that has been the target of fighting for more than a

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq  |  syria  |  security

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