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Operation to liberate Mosul begins

dpadpa 16/10/2016

An operation is underway to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul, the capital of Islamic State's so-called caliphate in Iraq.

The long-awaited operation to free the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State extremist organisation has begun, says Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

"Dear people of Iraq ... the hour of liberation has come and the moment of the great victory is near... I announce today the beginning of the operation to liberate the province of Nineveh," al-Abadi wrote on Facebook on Monday morning.

The United States says it's proud to stand with Iraq in the offensive to retake the capital of Islamic State's so-called caliphate in Iraq.

"Godspeed to the heroic Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga, and Ninewa volunteers. We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation," Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition against Islamic State, said in a message on Twitter.

Mosul, which is located in Nineveh, is the country's second biggest city, the largest to have a mainly Sunni Arab population and the largest under the rule of the Sunni extremist group.

Islamic State overran the city in mid-2014 at the beginning of a lightning offensive that saw it seize swathes of Sunni Arab northern and western Iraq as Iraqi army and police units collapsed in the face of its onslaught.

It was from Mosul's Great Mosque that the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made a rare public speech weeks later, after his organisation proclaimed him the caliph entitled to the loyalty of all Muslims worldwide.

Al-Abadi's government, hoping to reverse the defeat of 2014, has assembled a large force around the city.

Army units, many of which have been reformed and intensively trained by the United States since then, are in place along with Kurdish Peshmerga troops and local Sunni militias.

More controversially, the powerful Shi'Ite militias who have played a key role in the fight against Islamic State elsewhere in Iraq are also to take part in the offensive.

Islamic State has suffered a string of losses in recent months at the hands of the increasingly effective Iraqi forces, and has also been steadily losing ground in neighbouring Syria to Kurdish forces and Turkish-backed rebels.

Its ability to hold on to territory seems to be declining, but few observers expect it to easily give up its main stronghold and the last remaining major Iraqi city under its sway.

Aid agencies say they are far from ready to cope with what the UN says may be a flood of 700,000 civilians fleeing fighting in the city.

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