Iraqi forces captured several villages on Sunday, as they advanced from the south toward the western side of Mosul that is still under control of Islamic State, Iraqi military said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi earlier on Sunday announced the formal start of the ground offensive on western Mosul, asking the Iraqi forces to “respect human rights” during the battle.
The Islamic State militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after U.S.-backed forces surrounding the city forced them from the east in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month.
Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, the commander of the U.S.-led coalitions forces, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said in a statement.
Iraqi planes dropped millions of leaflets on the western side of Mosul warning residents that the battle to dislodge Islamic State was imminent as troops began moving in their direction, the Iraqi Defence Ministry said on Saturday.
CNN reported as many as 800,000 civilians live in western Mosul, according to the United Nations. It said UN humanitarian agencies would assist civilians caught in the fighting.The report added the offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS’s began in October with a push by the Iraqi army, counter-terrorism forces, federal police and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
ISIS seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in 2014. It is the militant group’s last major stronghold in the country.
BAGHDAD REUTERS Feb 19