Iraqi forces said on Sunday that they had regained territory from Daesh in the western part of Mosul, hours after the launch of an offensive to dislodge the extremist militia from its last key stronghold in the country.
Federal police chief Raed Jawdat said government forces had taken control of some parts of the Hammam al-Alil area, as well as the district of al-Lazakah in the south-western part of Mosul.
The forces also “liberated” the villages of al-Kanitera and al-Abyad in the western section of Mosul, operation command said in a statement.
“The troops have raised the Iraqi flag on buildings of the two villages after they inflicted casualties and losses on the enemy,” the command added without further detail.
Early on Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of a large-scale attack aimed at retaking the western half of Mosul from Daesh, nearly a month after US-backed Iraqi forces regained the eastern side of the city from militants.
"We announce the start of a new phase in the Operation [codenamed] 'We Are Coming, Nineveh' to liberate the western side of Mosul," al-Abadi said in a televised statement.
Mosul is the capital city of the northern province of Nineveh.
"Our brave forces will embark on liberating the rest of this city and free its citizens from the oppression and terrorism of Daesh," he added.
"Our main mission is to free man before we free land."
In the run-up to the new offensive, Iraqi jets dropped leaflets on the western part of Mosul, calling on Daesh fighters to surrender, the country's defense ministry said.
The ongoing operation for regaining western Mosul is expected to be tough due to population density and narrow streets of the region.
An estimated 650,000 people, including 350,000 children, are living in western Mosul, according to humanitarian groups.
“The impact of artillery and other explosive weaponry in those narrow, densely populated streets is likely to be more deadly and indiscriminate than anything we have seen in the conflict so far,” non-governmental charity Save The Children said Sunday.
“Families in western Mosul tell us escape is not an option – if they try to flee they risk summary execution by ISIS [Daesh] fighters or a gauntlet of sniper fire and landmines,” the head of the group’s mission in Iraq, Maurizio Crivallero, said.
“This is the grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay – or execution and snipers if they try to run.“
In October last year, Iraq started a massive US-backed campaign to recapture Mosul from Islamic State.
The al-Qaeda splinter group seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in a mid-2014 blitz.
In recent months, Daesh militants have been carrying out a string of bombings in different parts of Iraq, including the capital Baghdad, in an attempt to counter attack the campaign to drive the radical organization from Mosul.
At least 54 people were killed Thursday in a car bombing claimed by Islamic State in a south-western district of Baghdad.
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