Baghdad, Oct 17: Iraqi security forces on Monday recaptured nine villages from the Islamic State militant group as part of a major offensive aimed at liberating the city of Mosul, the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, security sources said.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces began their advance after midnight from their positions in Khazer area, some 40 km east of Mosul, toward Nineveh's provincial capital of Mosul, and managed to recapture the nine villages after the IS militants abandoned their positions, Xinhua quoted a a security source as saying.
The Iraqi army, Peshmerga forces and allied paramilitary Sunni and Shia Hashd Shaabi units have been advancing gradually from four directions after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the long-awaited offensive to free Mosul from the IS, the source said.
The joint forces, backed by the international and Iraqi air cover, continued their advance during the day to free many areas around Mosul, including the towns of Bashiqa and Himdaniyah, the source said.
Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan, Governor of Nineveh province, appealed to the people of Mosul to stay inside their homes and cooperate with the security forces.
Sultan demanded that the residents stay away from the IS headquarters and their positions to avoid civilian casualties.
In the early hours of the day, al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, announced the beginning of a major offensive to retake the country's second largest city from the extremist group.
"I declare the launch of the operation of liberating Nineveh province. The time of victory has come, and the moment of the great victory is approaching," Abadi said.
Abadi pledged to rebuild Mosul and other towns in Nineveh after they were destroyed by the IS, and vowed to bring stability.
"Very soon, we will be with you to raise the flag of Iraq in the middle of Mosul, and in towns and villages as well," Abadi said, calling on the people of Mosul to cooperate with security forces to defeat the IS.
Mosul, some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling the IS militants to take control of parts of the country's northern and western regions.