Battle for Mosul: Iraqi Kurdish fighters claim to have captured town of Bashiqa
Earlier, the Iraqi central government had turned down an offer from Turkey to take part in the Mosul campaign. Photograph: (AFP)
As Iraqi forces battled to tighten the noose around Mosul, Kurdish forces claimed to have captured the town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, from the Islamic States on Sunday.
Masoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdish region, told US defence secretary Ash Carter that the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters had succeeded in liberating Bashiqa from the militants.
Journalists have not yet been allowed into the town, which lies 12 km (8 miles) northeast of Mosul. But the capture of Bashiqa, if confirmed, would mark the removal of one more obstacle on the road to the northern city.
The top US commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, said his own information - while limited - "suggests that President Barzani is right, that there has been a considerable success at Bashiqa".
But he added: "I have not received a report that says every house has been cleared, every Islamic State fighter has been killed and every IED (roadside bomb) has been removed."
Townsend said that the militant resistance was stiff. "It's pretty significant, we are talking about enemy indirect fire, multiple IEDs (improvised explosive devices), multiple VBIED (vehicle-borne IEDs) each day, even some anti-tank guided missiles," he said in Baghdad.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the Turkish artillery hit militant positions in Bashiqa after the Peshmerga fighters requested assistance. "They (Peshmerga) asked for help from our soldiers at Bashiqa base. We are providing support with artillery, tanks and howitzers," Yildirim told reporters in western Turkey.
Ankara's claim came a day after Baghdad turned down a suggestion by Carter for Turkey to be given a part in the battle. Turkey has insisted that it is "out of the question" for Turkey not to be involved in the Mosul operation.
Ankara says some 700 Turkish soldiers are also training Iraqi fighters to help remove the Islamic State group from the country.
The United States has pressed for simultaneous operations against the Islamic State militants in Mosul and Raqqa in neighbouring Syria. He said destroying the group's external operations capabilities was "our highest priority".
The militants had staged a surprise assault on Iraq's Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, in an attempt to draw attention away from Mosul. At least 46 people, most of them in the security forces, were killed in the raid and ensuing clashes. The fighting had almost completed ceased by late Sunday. Observers warned such attacks could happen more often as the Islamic States loses territory and reverts to a traditional insurgency.
(WION with inputs from agencies)