Iraq’s armed forces started an offensive against Islamic State (IS) in the northerly Nineveh province on Thursday, in what was described as the first stage of an operation aimed at liberating the key city of Mosul.
The assault was launched from the Makhmour area, where thousands of Iraqi troops have deployed in recent weeks, setting up base alongside Kurdish and US forces around 37 miles south of Mosul.
Backed by air power from a US-led coalition and by Kurdish peshmerga forces, Iraqi troops advanced westwards, recapturing several villages from the Islamist militants, according to multiple military sources.
“The first phase of the Fatah (Conquest) Operation has been launched at dawn to liberate Nineveh, raising the Iraqi flag in several villages,” said a military statement cited by state TV.
Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether the army, which partially collapsed when IS overran a third of the country in June 2014, will be ready in time.
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