MOUNTING TOLL: Half the dead were civilians, the rest soldiers and tribal fighters –
TIKRIT: Iraqi forces repelled an offensive launched in the early hours of Saturday by IS on the town of Shirqat, south of Mosul, during which more than 30 military and civilians were killed and 40 more wounded, security sources said.
About a dozen IS fighters were also killed in the fighting, which ended around midday, the sources said.
About half the dead in the city were civilians and the rest members of the Iraqi armed forces and tribal fighters. A curfew was still in place in the early evening.
IS lost Shirqat to US-backed Iraqi government forces and tribal fighters last year. Its fall paved the way for the offensive on Mosul, the militants’ de-facto capital in Iraq.
Eight months into the US-backed offensive to take back Mosul, all of the city has been retaken by Iraqi government forces except an enclave by the western bank of the Tigris River.
The militants continue to control pockets south and west of Mosul, as well as swathes of territory near the border with Syria and inside Syria.
Iraq’s paramilitary Hashed al Shaabi forces said on Saturday that they had retaken all areas west of Mosul from the IS group except the town of Tal Afar.
The umbrella organisation has been fighting primarily on a separate western front since the battle to retake Mosul was launched in October last year.
Their main objective has been to isolate IS fighters battling elite forces inside the city by cutting off their supply lines to remaining strongholds in the Syrian part of their now crumbing “caliphate”.
“Hashed forces declare the liberation of all areas west of Mosul except Tal Afar,” the organisation said on social media.
Tal Afar is a large town that lies about 50 kilometres west of Mosul on the way to Syria and is still at the hands of the militants, although almost completely surrounded by anti-IS forces.
While the Counter-Terrorism Service and other federal forces were retaking Mosul one neighbourhood after another as well as urban areas around it, Hashed forces worked their way north and west through mostly desert regions of Iraq.
The Hashed’s top Iraqi military commander, known as Abu Mahdi al Mohandis, spoke overnight to hail the achievements of his forces.
“The Hashed are awaiting orders from the prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces (Haider al Abadi) to storm the district of Tal Afar,” he was quoted as saying in a statement.
He said that Hashed forces had taken control of an area about two kilometres from Iraq’s western border with neighbouring Syria, where another alliance of forces backed a US-led coalition is battling IS.