The battle to retake control of the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State has begun, News Agencies report.Announcing the operation on Iraq’s Iraqiya TV channel, prime minister Haider al Abadi said: “The time of victory has come and operations to liberate Mosul have started.
“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,” he said on state television. Addressing the residents of the city he added: “Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh (IS).”
A statement released by the General Command of Peshmerga Forces of Kurdistan said: “At approximately 0600hrs on 17 October 2016 a large-scale co-ordinated operation was launched by Peshmerga Forces in Khazir, East of Mosul, with Iraqi security forces … as the first step to clear Nineva province from IS terrorists.
“The operation in Khazir includes up to 4,000 Peshmerga in three fronts to clear nearby IS-occupied villages as part of the agreement between the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi Federal Government.
“Coalition warplanes have pounded IS positions and will continue to provide close air support throughout the operation. Local, regional and international media outlets have been embedded with Peshmerga Forces.”
Earlier the Iraqi army dropped thousands of leaflets over the besieged city warning civilians of the imminent military offensive. The push to retake the city will be the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011.
Mosul was overrun by heavily armed Islamic State militants in 2014 in what was described as a “total collapse” of government security forces, causing thousands of families to flee to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region in the north.
IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi visited the city to declare an Islamic caliphate which at one point covered nearly a third of Iraq and Syria.
Using Mosul as a base, the jihadi group swept further south through Iraq’s towns and cities, but government soldiers trained by US forces have since gained ground and Mosul is now the last city in the country held by IS.
A US-led international alliance is carrying out air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria, and providing training, arms and equipment to forces opposing the jihadists. According to UN estimates, up to one million people could be displaced from Mosul during the operation, exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the country.
There are more than 7,500 coalition military personnel deployed in Iraq, over half of them from the United States.