Iraqi forces push toward Mosul, Shiite militias join battle

Iranian forces are advising the fighters and Iraqi aircraft are providing airstrikes, he said.

Karim al-Nuri of the umbrella group for the militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Units, and Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for unit member the Hezbollah Brigades, said Sunday that a total of some 15,000 Shiite fighters were participating in the battle.

Numbers are expected to soar as Iraqi forces close in on the city, which is home to more than a million people.

Speaking in the village of Ain Nasir in the semi-arid land west of the Tigris, Amiri said the fight against Islamic State insurgents holding Mosul, who have already launched waves of suicide vehicle bombs, roadside bombs and sniper attacks to slow down the advancing forces, could be long and bloody.

An Iraqi military statement later said al-Shura was under full control of the security forces.

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Their aim is to take over the town of Tal Afar, about 35 miles west of Mosul, to cut off the Islamic State from using it as a place to retreat or get reinforcement from Syria. They said that the two pilots of the helicopter, which went down the previous evening, were missing.

Barzani presumably made this announcement to assuage fears of Iraqi Arabs that the KRG would take advantage of the campaign against Daesh to annex Mosul or parts of Mosul to Iraqi Kurdistan, as they annexed Kirkuk province in 2014.

The operation will target Tal Afar, an Islamic State-held area close to Turkey where a sizeable ethnic Turkmen population lives, which could cause concern in Ankara.

"There is cooperation between. the Army, federal police, Hashid and counter-terrorism [forces] and also the [local Sunni] tribes", said Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organisation, the most powerful group within the Popular Mobilisation forces.

The Iran-backed and battle-hardened paramilitaries bring additional firepower to the almost two-week-old campaign to recapture Iraq's second largest city from the jihadi group.

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Assadi said the operation aimed to retake the towns of Hatra and Tal Abta as well as Tal Afar, Assadi said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday warned Shiite militias in Iraq against attacking Turkmen residents of Tal Afar, a town near the Islamic State group's Mosul bastion.

By the Fallujah offensive that ended in June 2016, the Shiite militias were kept out of the Sunni city, but were tasked with capturing some outlying towns and oversaw a controversial vetting process of those Sunnis trying to flee for safety, in a bid to catch escaping IS fighters.

The blasts mainly targeted neighborhoods in Baghdad that are predominately Shiite, which make up Iraq's majority. But Tal Afar, where the militias are now focused, is itself a risky flash point, analysts have said.

The government and the PMF say a limited number of violations have occurred and that they were investigated but they deny that abuses were widespread and systematic.

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There have been other reports over the past week of civilians being killed as ISIS tries to herd people into its last major stronghold in Iraq and the nation's second city against the Iraqi-led operation.


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