Iraq's Shiite militias join Mosul push; bombs rock Baghdad

A US -led coalition has been providing airstrikes and ground support to Iraqi forces in the Mosul offensive, but al-Husseini said it had no involvement in the Iran-backed militias' advance on Tel Afar.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi'ite militias say they have started an offensive against the extremist group Islamist State (IS) west of Mosul, assisting the operation to take back the city.

Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (a super-province of Iraq) said Thursday that the KRG paramilitary, the Peshmerga, will not enter Mosul.

The city is by far the largest held by the ultra-hardline Sunni Islamic State and its loss would mark their effective defeat in Iraq, two years after their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate overlapping Iraq and Syria from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

Militia commanders have said that their forces will not enter Mosul but will instead focus on surrounding towns like Tel Afar.

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However, a combination of concentrated attacks by the Iraqi military and the volunteer forces, who rushed to take arms after top Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling for fight against the militants, blunted the edge of Daesh offensive. The militias have been accused of systematic abuses against Sunnis, whom the militias view as sympathizers of Islamic State.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command announced "the complete liberation of Al-Shura", saying that security forces advancing from four different sides had linked up in the area, which is north of Qayyarah base, the main hub for the southern front.

A spokesman for the Iranian-backed militia umbrella group known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) said that the aim of the operation was to clear Daesh strongholds in the area.

Mosul has been under Islamic State control since mid-2014.

Some civilians fleeing Mosul have used the roads to the west to escape to Qamishli, in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria.

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The drive toward Tal Afar could bring the fighting perilously close to the ancient city of Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site, and the ruins of Nimrud - two archaeological sites that have previously been vandalised by IS. They will need to retake a string of villages west of Mosul before reaching Tal Afar.

Iraqi officials are chalking it up as a mistake, but it is unclear why the town would be struck by United States planes in the first place, as the Iraqi troops had been there for nearly a week and there did not appear to be ISIS forces in the immediate vicinity. Islamic State returned fire with machine guns and mortars.

Tal Afar was a Shia-majority town of mostly ethnic Turkmen before ISIL overran it in 2014.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said this week his country was prepared to take measures if there is an attack on Tal Afar.

Turkey will take all necessary measures allowed by worldwide law to counter any threat from Shiite militias to Turkmen in Tal Afar, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday, according to the Anadolu news agency.

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