Iraqi forces advance near Mosul as IS attacks western town
KHAZER, IRAQ >> Iraqi Kurdish forces pushed toward Mosul on Sunday, cordoning off eight villages and coming within 5½ miles of the northern city held by the Islamic State group, which staged an attack in a western town hundreds of miles away in an apparent diversionary tactic.
The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, said the area they cordoned off measures around 100 square kilometers (38 square miles), and that they also secured a “significant stretch” of highway. The statement said eight car bombs were destroyed in the operation, including three by U.S.-led coalition aircraft, and “dozens” of militants were killed.
The offensive near the town of Bashiqa came nearly a week after Iraq announced the start of the long-awaited Mosul offensive. Iraqi and Kurdish forces are approaching from the north, east and south through a belt of mostly abandoned and heavily mined villages scattered across the Ninevah plain.
Maj. Gen. Haider Fadhi, of Iraq’s special forces said they also took part in the operation, and that Bashiqa was completely encircled.
IS has put up stiff resistance in many areas and has carried out attacks further afield that appear aimed at diverting attention from the Mosul operation.
IS militants stormed into the town of Rutba, in far western Iraq, unleashing three suicide car bombs that were blown up before hitting their targets, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.
He said some militants were killed, without giving an exact figure, and declined to say whether any civilians or Iraqi forces were killed. He said the militants did not seize any government buildings and that the situation “is under control.”
The IS-run Aamaq news agency had earlier said militants stormed Rutba from several directions.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, confirmed there had been a complex attack in Rutba and said he expects more such diversionary attacks as Iraqi forces close in on Mosul.
IS carried out a large assault on the northern city of Kirkuk on Friday, in which more than 50 militants stormed government compounds and other targets, setting off more than 24 hours of heavy fighting and killing at least 80 people, mainly security forces.
Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces patrol outside the town of Bartella, Iraq, on Saturday.