Mosul offensive: Iraq launches 'long-awaited' battle, UN says 'extremely concerned for 1.5 million civilians'?
Soldiers of Joint Special Operations Task Force stay alert on the front line of the northern front of the war in Iraq April 7, 2003 in Pir Daud, northern Iraq. Photograph: (Getty)
Aiming to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group, thousands of Iraq's Kurdish Peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of the city today after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of 'long-awaited' battle against the extremist group.
"The operation in Khazir includes up to 4,000 Peshmerga in three fronts to clear nearby IS-occupied villages," the general command of the Peshmerga was said in a statement, according to international news agency AFP.
The latest offensive by the Peshmerga forces is part of a broader operation to retake Mosul. The much-anticipated announcement by Iraq's Prime Minister comes more than two years after IS seized Iraq's second city, paving the way for the proclamation of its "state", AFP reported.
Peshmerga commanders said that the operation in Mosul, a major stronghold, was coordinated with Iraqi federal forces moving from the south and had received extensive air support from the US-led coalition.
Around 30,000 troops from the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga militia and Sunni tribal fighters are expected to take part in the offensive to drive an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 Islamic State militants from Mosul, Reuters reported.
It's pertinent to mention that Abadi stressed in his televised address that "only army and police forces would enter Mosul itself when advancing forces eventually reach the city's boundaries".
Iraqi government forces, with air and ground support from the US-led coalition, have launched the offensive. The assault on the northern city was the biggest operation mounted by the Iraqi military since US forces withdrew in 2011, and the United States predicted Islamic State would suffer "a lasting defeat,", according to a Reuters report.
Heavy firing has been reported in Mosul after Iraqi Prime Minister announced the launch of offensive against the Islamic State. (WION)
WION correspondent Daniele Pagani, who is in Iraq, has confirmed that heavy firing was confirmed from the region after the forces launched the operation.
Operation could last for weeks: Top US commander
Commenting on the launch of the battle, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition battling the jihadist group said that the operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group could last weeks and "possibly longer", AFP reported.
"This operation to regain control of Iraq's second-largest city will likely continue for weeks, possibly longer," he said in a statement.
"This may prove to be a long and tough battle, but the Iraqis have prepared for it and we will stand by them," Townsend.
Following the fall of Mosul to IS more than two years ago, the United States led what has now become a more than 60-nation coalition supporting the anti-IS effort in Iraq and Syria. The coalition had trained and equipped more than 54,000 Iraqi forces, according to Townsend.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has termed the Mosul offensive as a 'decisive moment'.
"This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat," Carter said in a statement, AFP reported.
"We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL's hatred and brutality."
He also promised continued support for Iraq. "The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead," he stressed.
Extremely concerned' for 1.5 million civilians: United Nations
Warning that the "families (in Mosul) are at extreme risk of being caught in cross-fire or (being) targeted by snipers", the UN deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief voiced grave concern at risks faced by civilians.
"I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted by military operations to retake the city from ISIL," Stephen O'Brien said, referring to the Islamic State jihadist group.
"Depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as one million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario," O'Brien said in a UN statement on Sunday.
Indeed, children and elderly are among those at greatest risk, he said.
"Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men may be under siege or held as human shields. Thousands may be forcibly expelled or trapped between the fighting lines," O'Brien added.
(WION with inputs from AFP)