Mosul offensive going faster than planned, says Iraq

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Iraqi security forces have launched an assault on Mosul. Photo / AP / NZ Herald
The offensive to seize back Mosul from Islamic State is going faster than planned, Iraq’s prime minister says.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces on Thursday intensified their military operation to clear villages around the northern city.

“The forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we thought and more quickly than we had programmed,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told senior officials who met in Paris to discuss the future of Iraq’s second-largest city via a video conference call.

Abadi announced the start of the offensive to retake Mosul on Monday, two years after the city fell to the militants, who declared from its Grand Mosque a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.

A US-led coalition including France, Italy, Britain, Canada and other Western nations is providing air and ground support to the forces closing in on the city.

Mosul is the last big city stronghold held by Islamic State in Iraq. Raqqa is the capital of the group in Syria.

The administration of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province is now one of the main topics of discussion for world leaders.

There are concerns the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni group would cause new sectarian and ethnic violence, fuelled by a desire to avenge atrocities inflicted on minority groups.

Nineveh is a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups – Arab, Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites – with Sunni Arabs making up the overwhelming majority.

Mosul, Iraqi government forces and allied Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are steadily recovering outlying territory before the main push into the city begins.

The battle is expected to be the biggest in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. About 1.5 million people still live in Mosul and the battle is expected to last weeks or months.

An Iraqi army elite unit and Kurdish fighters on Thursday started trying to take back villages north and east of Mosul, according to Kurdish and Iraqi military statements.

Howitzer and mortar fire started at 6am, hitting a group of villages held by Islamic State about 20 km north and east of Mosul, while helicopters flew overhead, witnesses said.

“The objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure control of strategic areas to further restrict ISIL’s movements,” the Kurdish general military command said in a statement announcing the launch of Thursday’s operations.