IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — The Latest developments in Iraq’s operation to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State group (all times local):
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.
He says five civilians and four troops were killed in Monday’s explosion and up to 35 people were wounded. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to release information.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it has all the hallmarks of the Islamic State 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.
—Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad.
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 Islamic State control are: Tercele, Basahra, Little Bedene, Great Bedene, Kebervi, Baskelan and Sheikh Emir.
The agency also says two would-be Islamic State 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.
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 Islamic State group.
Lt. Col. Ali Hussein 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 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.
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 Islamic State 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.”
He says that families are at “extreme risk” of being caught in crossfire, tens of thousands may end up besieged or held as human shields and thousands could be forcibly expelled.
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.”
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.”
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 Islamic State 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.”
He says: “This may prove to be a long and tough battle, but the Iraqis have prepared for it and we will stand by them.”
Iraq’s military and the country’s Kurdish forces are on the move to the south and east of the Islamic State group-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.
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 Islamic State group, known also by its Arabic language acronym, Daesh.
Broadcasts showed the prime minister, dressed in the uniform of the elite counterterrorism forces, speaking while flanked by senior military officers.
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 and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake.”