Iraq paramilitaries move on key town near Syrian border

  • Iraq paramilitaries move on key town near Syrian border

Iraq paramilitaries move on key town near Syrian border

Iraqi forces pressed forward on Monday with a broad offensive, targeting Islamic State (IS)-held areas in west Mosul and called for civilians to leave areas where fighting is taking place.

The attacks come as IS militants are steadily losing territory to US -backed Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul, the country's second-largest city.

Iraqi forces backed by US and coalition air support in October began the battle to liberate Mosul.

More than 30 ISIL fighters were also killed in heavy clashes. "The fighting is extremely intense ... the presence of civilians means we have to be very cautious", he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The three neighbourhoods targeted in the latest offensive, located north of the Old City, are seen as the last areas that separate Iraqi forces from ISIL's last bastion.

The area - a warren of closely spaced buildings and narrow streets - has posed a significant challenge to Iraqi forces, which have surrounded it with a large number of civilians trapped inside.

Masoudi, whose remarks came shortly before Ameri's announcement of reaching the Syrian border, added that as soon as the PMU forces reached the border, they "will erect a dirt barricade and dig a trench to derail Daesh move".

An Iraqi Shi'ite force backed by Iran has said it pushed Islamic State (IS) militants out of villages on the border with Syria on May 29, in a step toward reopening a supply route to send Iranian weapons to President Bashar al-Assad.

Its prime target is the medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque with its landmark leaning minaret in Mosul's Old City, where ISIS's black flag has been flying since mid-2014. Before the PMF was sanctioned by the Iraqi government al-Nujaba fighters openly fought inside Syria, helping prop up the Assad regime during the early days of the uprising against his government.

"Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa, we are not going to allow them to do so", Mattis said.

"We are deeply concerned that right now, in the last final stages of the campaign to retake Mosul, that the (IS) areas are probably at graver risk now than at any other stage of the campaign", Lise Grande, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, told AFP.

Some 700,000 people, about a third of the pre-war city's population, have already fled, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps.

"Many people were on the ground, including women and children, and the screams of the women and children got louder", he said. "One ripped through my leg, the other in my groin".

The organization said that it was the largest daily movement of people since the launch of the Mosul operation by a joint Iraqi and Kurdish security forces last October, walking several hours before reaching the nearest military checkpoint where they undergo a screening process to detect any suspected ISIS militants.

One of the worst incidents came on March 17, where the Pentagon determined a US airstrike set off secondary explosives laid by IS; the ensuing blast killed more than 100 civilians sheltering in a home in western Mosul.