Members of Iraqi security forces search people before Friday prayers outside of the Hajj Diab al-Iraqi mosque in Mosul, Iraq, February 10, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
Iraqi forces have thwarted an attempt by around 200 militant fighters to flee their bastion of Tal Afar towards Syria, west of the city of Mosul, a security spokesman said Monday.
Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), a paramilitary organisation dominated by Shia militia groups, said the Islamic State group used tanks in their bid to break out of Tal Afar.
"The attack by the Daesh (IS) terrorist gangs started at around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT on Sunday), the fighting lasted around six hours," their spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi told AFP.
Hashed forces have been deployed in desert areas west of Mosul since federal forces launched a massive operation to retake the city from IS on October 17.
Their main goals are to retake Tal Afar, a Turkmen-majority city which is still held by IS, and to prevent the jihadists from being able to move men and equipment between Mosul and their strongholds in Syria.
"This was an attempt by Daesh to open a breach, flee to the Syria border and exfiltrate some leaders and fighters," Assadi said.
He said that Hashed forces received support from army aviation helicopters when IS attacked them. He added that the fighting left around 50 IS members killed and 17 of their vehicles destroyed.
Assadi did not provide a casualty figure for the Hashed al-Shaabi following the attack, which took place around 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of Tal Afar.
IS jihadists are confined to a corridor between Tal Afar and Mosul by tens of thousands of forces deployed on several fronts.
After retaking the eastern side of Mosul last month, Iraqi forces are preparing to launch an assault on the west bank of the city.
The early stages of the Mosul offensive saw IS move fighters between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqa, its other major urban stronghold, but their supply lines have now been cut off.