Live: aid group says many refugees fleeing to Syria

5,000 people have arrived at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria in the last 10 days, with 1,000 more waiting to enter at the border.

Updated - November 17, 2021 06:00 am IST

Published - October 17, 2016 04:32 pm IST - IRBIL (IRAQ):

The updates:

Day 3

4.10 p.m. IST

An aid group says thousands of Iraqis are fleeing to Syria in order to escape the fighting around the northern city of Mosul, where a wide-scale offensive is under way to drive out the Islamic State (IS) group.

Save the Children said on Wednesday that 5,000 people have arrived at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, with 1,000 more waiting to enter at the border.

The group says the camp was ill-equipped to receive the refugees, saying it is “littered with waste and feces, with a looming risk of outbreaks of disease.” It says there are just 16 latrines shared by more than 9,000 people, many of whom only have access to dirty, untreated water.

Tarik Kadir, head of Save the Children’s response to the Mosul crisis, says that “conditions there are among the worst we’ve seen, and we expect thousands more people to be on their way soon.”

Mosul, which fell to the IS in 2014, is still home to more than a million civilians.

4 p.m. IST

A Turkish official says between 100,000 and 400,000 people could flee the fighting in Mosul and make their way toward Syria, Iraq’s Kurdish-administrated region or the border with Turkey.

Kerem Kinik, head of the Turkish Red Crescent organization, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the “humanitarian aspect” of the Mosul operation had not been well thought out by the coalition forces.

New camps for up to 20,000 families are under construction by international aid agencies in northern Iraq and could be ready within a week.

The Turkish official said he believed the refugees would mostly be “taken under control” within Iraq, but added that Turkey is prepared for a refugee influx.

3.40 p.m. IST

A senior Iraqi military commander has called on local fighters with the Islamic State group inside Mosul to lay down their weapons as a wide-scale operation is underway to retake the city.

Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, told reporters at a military base on Tuesday that up to 6,000 IS fighters are still inside the city. He did not say how many of them are foreigners.

The IS has suffered a string of defeats over the past year, and Mosul is its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

3.15 p.m. IST

Iraqi and Kurdish authorities are setting up a refugee camp with some 5,000 tents east of Mosul as they brace for an influx of people fleeing a massive offensive to retake the Islamic State-held city.

Project manager Prezzo Mikael said on Wednesday that the camp was nearly complete, with running water, electricity and food.

The massive operation launched on Monday is expected to take weeks or months. The camp is prepared to receive 5,000 families.

Iraqi authorities have called on people to remain in their homes, but are also preparing humanitarian corridors for them to escape the fighting.

2 p.m. IST

Islamic State militants have deployed suicide car bombs and fired mortar rounds to slow down the advance of Iraqi troops outside a key town near the militant-held city of Mosul.

An officer with the Iraqi army’s 9th Division told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his troops are around 1 kilometre (half mile) away from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida.

11.25 a.m. IST

The United States expects Islamic State to use crude chemical weapons as it tries to repel an Iraqi-led offensive on the city of Mosul, U.S. officials say.

11.05 a.m. IST

U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed confidence that Iraqi forces and their US-led allies would be able to drive out ISIS from its self-declared capital Mosul.

With the crucial battle on, Iraqi commanders report progress as fighters push on two main fronts against the jihadists' last stronghold in Iraq.

The U.S. military, which is leading a coalition providing air and ground support, says Iraqi forces even looked “ahead of schedule” but senior western officials warn the battle would take time.

Day 2

11.30 p.m. IST

Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis says Islamic State fighters are barring civilians from leaving Mosul and using them as human shields.

"We know they are being used as human shields, absolutely," Navy Captain Davis says. "They are being held there against their will. We have not seen any change in the last day of people leaving or fleeing."

Authorities and aid agencies are bracing for a massive flow of civilians fleeing Mosul as the fight progresses.

9.41 p.m. IST

U.S. President Barack Obama says the military operation to reclaim the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State militants will be a “difficult fight.”

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday alongside Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama says a top priority for both of their governments is the safety and humanitarian aid for the approximately 1 million people who still live in Mosul and could suffer during the fighting.

6.15 p.m. IST

France’s foreign minister is pulling together an urgent international meeting for a stabilisation plan for Mosul as the push to free the city from the Islamic State group advances.

Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Tuesday that he and his Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim a-Jaafari, would gather more than 20 countries and international organisations to come up with a plan to protect civilians, distribute aid and address questions about governing areas newly liberated by the Islamic State group.

6.00 p.m. IST

Turkey’s prime minister has backtracked from his comments earlier in the day stating that the Turkish air force had taken part in airstrikes during the operation underway to free Mosul from the Islamic State group.

Asked for clarification about it, Binali Yildirim told reporters later Tuesday that there is an agreement “in principle” for the Turkish air force to be part of the U.S.-led coalition. The remarks were reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency.

Anadolu quoted Yildirim as saying the planes would join the aerial operations “when necessary.”

When asked if Turkish planes had already joined coalition operations, Yildirim said— “I don’t know the details of the operation but what is important is for them to be part of the coalition.”

5.45 p.m. IST

A U.N. official says the world body expects people to start fleeing the northern Iraqi city of Mosul “basically any minute now.”

Spokesman Jens Laerke of U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator OCHA told reporters on Tuesday in Geneva that “we haven’t seen any big rush out yet” from Iraq’s second-largest city.

Iraq’s government on Monday launched an operation to recapture the city from the radical Islamic State group. Several U.N. agencies have been stepping up preparations for an expected exodus from Mosul.

U.N. officials variously expressed concerns that IS could use chemical weapons or use civilians as human shields to try to fend off a government advance. Refugee agency UNHCR also expressed concerns that it might not have enough land to set up tent camps for evacuees.

5.27 p.m. IST

The anti-Islamic State coalition's battle to take Mosul in Iraq from the militant Islamist group will take time and “won't be a Blitzkrieg,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Reuters on Tuesday.

“This battle is crucial because it is the stronghold of Daesh,” he told reporters using an acronoym for Islamic State. "Mosul is the stronghold of our enemy... but the battle will be long, it won't be a Blitzkrieg, this is a town of a million-and-a-half inhabitants so it's a long term affair, several weeks, perhaps months,” he said.

4.40 p.m. IST

Turkey’s prime minister says the country’s air force was involved in airstrikes alongside the U.S.-backed coalition as part of the operation underway to free Mosul from the Islamic State group.

Binali Yildirim also said on Tuesday that local fighters trained by Turkish troops in the contentious northern Iraqi camp of Bashiqa were at the forefront of the Mosul operation, fighting alongside the Kurdish peshmerga forces. Yildirim spoke in a weekly address to his ruling party’s legislators.

The comments were in response to calls from Baghdad on Turkey to withdraw its troops and accusations that Ankara was violating Iraq’s sovereignty.

Yildirim says that with the Turkish participation in the airstrikes, “those who say ‘Turkey has no business in Mosul’ have gotten their answer.”

4.00 p.m. IST

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says a delegation from Iraq is expected in Turkey this week for talks to overcome a dispute over Turkish troop presence in northern Iraq.

Cavusoglu told reporters in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that the visit could take place on Thursday or later in the week. His comments were reported by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.

Iraq says Turkish troops based in a camp in Bashiqa in northern Iraq are violating Iraqi sovereignty and should withdraw. Turkish leaders have repeatedly said the troops will remain to train local fighters and Turkey will take part in the operation to re-take the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. That offensive began on Monday.

Cavusoglu says that Ankara “absolutely support Iraq’s territorial integrity” and wants to see “Iraq cleaned of terror.”

Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Umit Yalcin arrived in Baghdad on Monday, to discuss Bashiqa and the Mosul operation.

3.00 p.m. IST

Thousands of followers of an Iraqi Shia cleric are marching in front of the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad demanding the withdrawal of Turkish troops from a base near the northern city of Mosul.

Turkey says the troops are training Iraqi fighters to help retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, and that they are there with the permission of the Iraqi government. Baghdad denies it granted permission and has ordered them to withdraw a call Ankara has ignored.

At Tuesday’s rally in Baghdad, the followers of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr chanted — “Get out, Get out, occupier,” and “Yes, yes, for Iraq.”

Sheikh Majid al-Fartousi, a Sadrist representative, says — “We condemn Turkish interference in Iraqi affairs. No one should trespass and occupy Iraqi soil.”

The tensions between Baghdad and Ankara have raised concerns about the offensive to retake Mosul, which officially began on Monday. The operation involves some 25,000 army troops, Kurdish forces, Sunni fighters and Shiite militias. The various fighting units are allied against IS, but many have a history of animosity toward each other.

Iraqi supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gather in front of the Turkish embassy in Baghdad to protest against the continued presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, on October 18, 2016. Photo: AFP

2.00 p.m. IST

An Iraqi special forces commander says his troops have delayed their advance that’s part of the offensive to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul following a request from Kurdish forces for more time to achieve their objectives.

Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his men had planned to move at dawn, but postponed upon a request from the Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga.

A Kurdish commander had earlier told AP that his forces were consolidating gains made yesterday, when the peshmerga seized a handful of small villages east of the city.

12.30 p.m. IST

Iraq’s Kurdish forces say they are pausing in their advance on Mosul after capturing a handful of villages to the east from the Islamic State group as the Iraqi army presses ahead with the next stage of the operation to retake the IS-held city.

Col. Khathar Sheikhan of the Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, says his troops achieved their objectives and “are just holding our positions” in the Khazer area on Tuesday. >Read more.

Graphic: B. Srinivasan

12.08 p.m. IST

New Zealand has announced that it will give 1 million New Zealand dollars ($718,000) to help meet the humanitarian needs of those people affected by the military campaign. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the funding will be provided through the International Organization for Migration. He said New Zealand has now provided a total of NZ$25 million to assist people in Syria and Iraq.

9.45 a.m. IST

Australian soldiers will join Iraqi security forces and the international coalition in an operation to recapton ure Mosul city from the the Islamic State (IS) terror group, Defence Minister Marise Payne said Tuesday.

“We are continuing our work providing support to the Iraqi security forces throughout the Mosul offensive,” Payne said.

“I’m not going to give those sorts of specific details in operational terms for security reasons,” she said in response to a question about the proximity of Australian troops to the current military action in Mosul.

4. 22 a.m. IST,

The military operation to wrest Mosul from the Islamic State group could potentially become the single largest, most complex humanitarian operation in the world in 2016, a U.N. official says.

Speaking via video-link from Iraq, Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, says that in the worst case scenario, some 1 million civilians could flee the city with 700,000 of them requiring shelter overwhelming emergency sites that currently only have the capacity to hold 60,000 people.

“Our capacity to support 700,000 people in the short—term we couldn’t do it. And certainly if we had to mount a response over the intermediate-term, if they couldn’t go back to Mosul quickly, if there was too much damage in the city, then it would test us to the breaking point,” Ms. Grande says.

Day 1:

11. 29 p.m. IST: Iraqi forces are meeting objectives and are ahead of schedule on the first day of the offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State militant group, the Pentagon says adding U.S. military forces are behind the forward line of troops in the battle.

11.16 p.m. IST: Riyadh has urged the Iraqi government not to let Shia militias enter Mosul.

"We oppose any kind of involvement by the Shia militias," The Guardian newspaper reports Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir as saying at a press conference in London.

"When they went into Fallujah they committed mass atrocities, including a mass grave of 400 people."

He says extremist recruitment and website traffic surged by 150 percent following the Fallujah offensive.

"If they go into Mosul, which is many times larger than Fallujah, I would expect the negative reaction will be tremendous and if there are mass killings, it could end up being a bonanza for violent extremists, and recruitment.

"It could add fuel to the sectarian fires raging in the region and so we have urged the Iraqi government not to use the Shia militias. That is the greatest danger that we see.

"We actually told them to disband them, and yet they have not. They are being managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They are brutal."

Photo: Reuters

8.40 p.m. IST

Defence Ministers from the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq and Syria will meet in Paris on October 25, 2016, France says.

The coalition is concerned that IS will attempt to move fighters and military equipment from Mosul to Syria as the offensive intensifies.

"We must prevent (fighters) based in Mosul from moving easily to Raqqa and we need to ensure that those who are currently able to roam around freely in Syria can be tracked down," ," an aide to French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says.

7.46 p.m. IST

The President of Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, says Iraqi Kurdish forces retook 200 square kilometers (80 sq. miles) from the Islamic State group on the first day of a massive operation to liberate militant-held Mosul.

Mr. Barzani called the territorial gains on Monday a “turning point in the war against terrorism,” but warned that pushing the militant group out of Iraq’s second largest city will not necessarily mean the end of terrorism or violence in the country.

The Kurdistan Security Council says Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga retook some half-a-dozen villages east of Mosul with close U.S.-led coalition support in the form of airstrikes and heavy artillery. However, some of the villages comprised no more than a few dozen homes and none had significant civilian populations.

Mr. Barzani says Kurdish forces will not be entering the city itself, but declined to say who would govern the territory seized by the Kurds. In the past, Kurdish officials have said all territory retaken from the IS by the peshmerga will be incorporated into Iraq’s Kurdish region.

6.45 p.m. IST

A senior military commander says the wide-scale military operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants “is going very well.”

The Commander of the Joint Military Operation Commander, Army Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, told The Associated Press in an interview in the town of Khazer that the troops were moving forward according to plan. Shaghati would not give details on the progress.

6.37 p.m IST

Iraqi Kurdish forces are making slow progress east of Mosul on the first day of the long-awaited offensive to retake the Islamic State-held city.

Long columns of armored vehicles followed by hundreds of pickup trucks advanced on a cluster of some half-a-dozen villages on the Nineveh plain outside the city on Monday.

U.S.-led airstrikes and heavy artillery pounded the squat, dusty buildings. The area, historically home to religious minorities brutally oppressed by the IS, was almost completely empty of civilians, allowing air power to do much of the heavy lifting.

But Lt. Col. Mohammad Darwish of the Kurdish forces known as peshmerga said the main roads and fields were littered with homemade bombs and that suicide car bomb attacks had slowed the troops’ progress.

A peshmerga major said some Kurdish fighters entered the villages in Humvees, “but they didn’t do anything, not even walk outside on the street.”

The major said his men were still waiting for engineering teams to clear the villages. But just a few hundred meters from the front line a bomb disposal team sat idle hours after the operation began, explaining that they had not yet received orders to deploy.

6.30 p.m. IST

A relief organisation has warned that thousands in the Iraqi city of Mosul are at risk of getting caught up in the military operations there and face a lack of clear escape routes.

The International Rescue Committee said on Monday that 2,00,000 people were likely to flee the city in first weeks of the operation, but that only 60,000 tents are available in seven emergency camps. Up to one million people in total could flee their homes in search of safety, the group said.

Aleksandar Milutinovic, the International Rescue Committee’s Iraq County Director says that “civilians who attempt to escape the city will have little choice but to take their lives into their own hands and pray that they are able to avoid snipers, land mines, booby traps and other explosives.”

6.25 p.m. IST

The U.N. refugee agency has called on warring parties in Iraq to spare the lives of civilians and not to use them as hostages or human shields amid a wide-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State militants from the northern city of Mosul.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, says he raised the issue of protection civilians with the Iraqi government and received “strongest assurances” from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Grandi underlined that protection civilians “will indispensable for the future of Iraq, for the future in which the people of Iraq have live together and build a prosperous country.”

The comments came hours after the government of Iraq announced the start of the long-awaited Mosul operation.

6.10 p.m. IST

The top general in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq says Iraqi forces are ready to retake Mosul and that the coalition is “confident they will succeed.”

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky says that “Mosul will be a hard fight, but the Iraqi security forces are ready. They’ve been waiting to liberate Mosul for two years, and today is the day.”

Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a massive operation on Monday to retake Mosul, which fell to IS in the summer of 2014. The U.S. is supporting them with airstrikes, and U.S. soldiers are serving in a support role on the ground.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told CNN that “it’s the Iraqis who are in the lead.”

Cook declined to address a campaign issue when he was asked about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments that by saying what it’s going to do, the coalition is telegraphing its moves to the enemy-

6 p.m. IST

An Islamic State-run media outlet says the group has launched a series of suicide attacks targeting Kurdish forces advancing on the militant-held city of Mosul.

The Aamaq news agency is claiming eight suicide attacks against the Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, and says the IS destroyed two Humvees belonging to the Kurdish forces and Shia militias east of the city on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Rudaw TV broadcast images of Kurdish tanks firing on two IS suicide truck bombs, one of which crashed and exploded.

The peshmerga are taking part in a massive operation to liberate Mosul, alongside the Iraqi military, Sunni tribal fighters and Shiite militias. It is the most complex operation launched in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops five years ago.

4.50 p.m. IST

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is determined to be a part of the operation to free Mosul from the Islamic State, as well as in possible talks on the city’s future.

Mr. Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s concerns that the operation, which started early on Monday, could lead to sectarian clashes and maintained that efforts in Iraq to keep Turkey away from the Mosul offensive were linked to Ankara’s efforts to prevent any possible demographic change in the region.

Turkey has been issuing warnings about possible sectarian clashes in Mosul if the majority Sunni region were placed under Shiite militia control.

Mr. Erdogan says that once Mosul is liberated, Turkey cannot allow “a Sunni-Shiite strife” in the city. He insisted Turkey “will be in the [Mosul] operation and we will be at the table. It is not possible for us to stay outside.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus says Foreign Ministry’s Undersecretary Umit Yalcin was on his way to Baghdad to discuss the Turkish troops presence at the Bashiqa camp north of Baghdad as well as the Mosul operation.

In other updates, Iraqi officials say the casualty toll from a suicide car bombing a security checkpoint in the town Youssifiyah, just south of Baghdad, has risen to 12 killed and more than 30 wounded.

Smoke rises from clashes in the east of Mosul during clashes with Islamic State militants in Iraq. Photo: Reuters

4.15 p.m. IST

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus says some 3,000 Turkish-trained Iraqi fighters are taking part in the operation to wrest the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group.

Mr. Kurtulmus also told reporters on Monday that Turkey has no intention of withdrawing its troops from a base in northern Iraq, where they have been training Iraqi forces to fight the IS.

Mr. Kurtulmus says that “about 3,000 of them have joined the Mosul operation” with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.

The Turkish troop presence in the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul has stirred tension with Baghdad. Iraq says they are in “blatant violation” of Iraqi sovereignty and had demanded their withdrawal. Turkey says the troops were invited by Iraqi forces and has ignored the calls.

2.45 p.m. IST

Iraqi officials say a suicide bombing has targeted security forces outside Baghdad, killing at least nine people.

A police officer says the attacker drove his explosive-laden car into an Iraqi army checkpoint in the town Youssifiyah, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Iraqi capital.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it has all the hallmarks of the Islamic State (IS) group, which has staged similar attacks in the past. The attack came just hours after the government announced the start of the long-awaited military operation to drive IS militants from the northern city of Mosul.

2.05 p.m. IST

Turkey’s state-run news agency says the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces have taken control of seven villages east of the city of Mosul and that they control the main road linking the city with the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, Irbil, further to the east.

The Anadolu Agency report is quoting Helgurt Hikmet, a press officer in Irbil, as saying the seven villages that were taken from IS control are: Tercele, Basahra, Little Bedene, Great Bedene, Kebervi, Baskelan and Sheikh Emir.

The agency also says two would-be IS suicide bombers were “neutralized” during the operations on Monday morning but did not provide details.

A very small number of Turkish troops deployed for over a year in Iraqi territory at a base north of Mosul have caused a recent spike in tensions between Iraq and Turkey. Baghdad says they are violating Iraq’s sovereignty and has demanded they leave the country, a call Ankara has ignored.

It’s still unclear what role, if any, the Turkish troops will take in the Mosul operation, which began on Monday morning. So far, the Turkish forces have been training anti-IS fighters there.

12.50 p.m. IST

Iraq’s special forces say the Iraqi Kurdish troops, known as the peshmerga, are leading the first push on Mosul’s eastern front toward the city held by the IS group.

Lt. Col. Ali Hussein of the special forces says his men are also anxious to move out to the front line as soon as possible but that he expects they will wait near the town of Khazer for another day or two. He spoke just hours after the long-awaited battle for Mosul began on Monday morning.

According to Lt Col Hussein, an earlier political deal between the country’s Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad has agreed that Kurdish forces would advance first and bring a cluster of villages -- the home of Christian, Shabak and other minority groups -- under their regional control.

Saud Masoud, also with the special forces, says that after the Kurdish troops “take the area that they want,” the special forces will then move to the new front and continue the push into Mosul.

12. 20 p.m. IST

A senior U.N. official says he’s “extremely concerned” for the safety of civilians in Mosul in the fight to retake the Iraqi city from IS fighters.

Stephen O’Brien, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said in a statement that “depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as 1 million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario.”

O’Brien urged all sides “to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they are entitled to and deserve.”

11.45 a.m. IST

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, says the U.S-led coalition is providing wide support for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the battle for Mosul.

But he stressed, “to be clear, the thousands of ground combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis.”

Lt Gen Townsend’s statement came shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of operations on Monday to liberate the northern city of Mosul from IS militants.

The U.S. commander pledged the coalition will continue to use “precision to accurately attack the enemy and to minimize any impact on innocent civilians."

10.50 a.m. IST

Iraq’s military and the country’s Kurdish forces are on the move to the south and east of the IS-held city of Mosul.

The early Monday morning development follows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s announcement that the long-awaited fight to retake Mosul has begun.

Convoys of Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces could be seen moving east of Mosul into the early hours of Monday. Along the front line, U.S-led coalition airstrikes sent plumes of smokes into the air and heavy artillery rounds could be heard.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under IS rule for more than two years and still home to more than a million civilians according to estimates from the United Nations. The fight is expected to be the most complex yet for Iraq’s military.

4.30 a.m. IST

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the start of operations to liberate the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.

State TV showed a brief written statement in the early hours on Monday announcing the start of the widely anticipated military offensive to drive IS out of Iraq’s second largest city.

The push to retake Mosul will be the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, the strongest blow yet to the IS group.

Broadcasts showed the Prime Minister, dressed in the uniform of the elite counterterrorism forces, speaking while being flanked by senior military officers.

Mr. Al-Abadi addressed the people of Mosul, saying that “these forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul, which is to get rid of Daesh [an Arabic acronym for IS] and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake.”

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