Iraqi forces launch ground offensive on last IS locations in Mosul

Reuters – U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on Sunday launched a ground offensive to dislodge Islamic State militants from their remaining stronghold in Mosul, in the western part of the city, and put an end to their ambitions for territorial rule in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the offensive, asking Iraqi forces to “respect human rights” during the battle and to take care of those displaced by the fighting.

Islamic State militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after they were forced out of the eastern part of the city in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month, after 100 days of fighting.

Up to 400,000 civilians could be displaced by the offensive as residents of western Mosul suffer food and fuel shortages and markets are closed, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande told Reuters on Saturday.

Iraqi federal police units are leading a northward charge on the Mosul districts that lie west of the Tigris river, aiming to capture Mosul airport, just south of the city, according to statements from the armed forces joint command.

They captured several villages and a local power distribution station in the first hours and killed several militants including snipers, the statements said.

The police are advancing up the Tigris river valley toward the airport, whilst the Rapid Response, an elite Interior Ministry unit, cut across more open terrain to the southwest.

“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world,” the commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said in a statement.

Islamic State has escalated its insurgency in retaliation for the military setbacks that have, over the past year, forced it out of most Iraqi cities it had captured in 2014 and 2015.

Two militants blew themselves up in eastern Mosul on Sunday, killing three soldiers and two civilians, and wounding a dozen people, security sources said.

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