Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on militant-held villages east of Mosul on Monday as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State 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 said in a statement.
It said the operation was coordinated with Iraqi federal forces moving from the south and had received extensive air support from the US-led coalition.
Peshmerga commanders said the push was the third phase of an effort that started months ago to retake villages in the Nineveh plain that were captured by IS in 2014 and used to be inhabited by members of the Christian and Kakai minorities.
The latest offensive by the peshmerga is part of a broader operation to retake Mosul announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi early on Monday.
The much-anticipated announcement comes more than two years after IS group seized Iraq's second city, paving the way for the proclamation of its "state".
Mosul is the extremist group's last major stronghold in Iraq and its recapture would shatter IS's claim that it is still running a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria.
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.