Iraqi Shia forces advance west of Mosul, route still open

Reuters , Thursday 3 Nov 2016

Iraqi families, who fled the violence due to the ongoing operation by Iraqi forces against jihadists of the Islamic State group to retake the city of Mosul, board a truck before heading to camps housing displaced people on November 3, 2016 near Gogjali, which lies on the eastern edge of Mosul (Photo: AFP)

Iraqi Shia forces fighting to cut off an Islamic State (IS) supply route west of Mosul made progress on Thursday but several cars were still able to leave the city, a spokesman said.

The leader of the Badr Organisation, the largest of the Shia militias that make up the Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) forces, had said earlier he hoped to seal off Mosul's western flank on Thursday.

"We are advancing slowly," Karim Nuri, a spokesman for the Hashid Shaabi told Reuters. "We witnessed some vehicles from a distance, withdrawing (from Mosul)".

It was not clear whether the cars were escaping the fighting in Mosul, where Iraqi troops have breached IS militants defences on the eastern side of the city, or seeking to reinforce the IS-held town of Tal Afar to the west.

The Iraq army, security forces and Kurdish peshmerga forces have been advancing from the south, east and north of Mosul since launching an offensive on Oct 17 to recapture the city, the biggest city controlled by IS militants in Iraq or Syria.

They were joined five days ago by the Popular Mobilisation forces, which launched their offensive towards Tal Afar on Mosul's western flank.

Tal Afar lies about 55 km (35 miles) west of Mosul, on the way to IS-controlled regions of neighbouring Syria. Cutting off the western side of the city and the routes to Tal Afar will leave IS enclosed on four axes.

Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri said earlier that he hoped to cut off IS main western supply route out of Mosul.

"Today, God willing, is the completion of the first stage of the Hashid operations - that is cutting the supply route of the enemy between Tal Afar and the Muhalabiya district, reaching to Mosul," Amiri told Iraqi television.

Amiri said the militias also intended ultimately to cut off the main highway between Mosul and Tal Afar, but said that the Muhalabiya route was the priority because it was the one used by the militants since they took over Mosul two years ago.

"This is the area Daesh (IS) entered Mosul from," he said. "Severing this road means to completely cut off the enemy's supply lines and surround them."

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told his fighters in an audio tape on Thursday there would be no retreat from the Mosul assault, and that victory would be theirs in the "total war" with their enemies.

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