Iraqi forces, backed by US-led air cover, liberated 12 villages south of Mosul as part of an offensive to free Iraq's second-largest city from the Islamic State extremist militia, Iraqi state TV reported, citing the military.
Earlier in the day, Iraqi forces engaged in armed clashes with Daesh militants near villages bordering Mosul from the south, Shaker Jawdat, the commander of the local Federal Police Forces told dpa.
President Masoud Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan said in a press conference later in the day that Iraq's forces and Kurdish Peshmerga troops have cleared some 200 square kilometres of land that were under the control of Daesh in the first day of the campaign to capture Mosul.
"This is the first time the blood of the Peshmerga and the Iraq army mixed on the battlefield. I hope this bodes well for the future," Barzani said, praising the cooperation of the joint effort to take the extremist group's key stronghold in northern Iraq.
Barzani, speaking near the front line and surrounded by several key officials, said he believes revenge attacks could be prevented and that the Kurdish and Iraqi forces would work "to ensure Mosul will not be another Aleppo," referring to the besieged Syrian city.
Warning that the autonomous Kurdish area of northern Iraq already has some 1.8 million displaced people, Barzani said the territory cannot cope with more outflows of refugees, amid concerns the Mosul operation will put hundreds of thousands of people on the move.
Also Monday, Kurdish Peshmerga forces liberated seven villages bordering Mosul from the east after launching an attack on three fronts, Peshmerga spokesman Brigadier Halgurd Hikmat said.
The villages include Kurdish, Arab and Christian ones, Hikmat said, adding that fierce fighting between the two sides was ongoing.
Peshmerga forces also took control of the main roads near al-Hamdaniya district and advanced about 4 kilometres towards the Assyrian town of Bartella.
Another Peshmerga spokesman, Jabar al-Yawar, told dpa that the operation started at 5 am (0200 GMT). "Our forces are constantly advancing ... I can tell you now that we are advancing to reach our goals," he said.
Dubai-based al-Arabiya al-Hadath news broadcaster reported attempts by Daesh militants to flee from the villages to western Mosul.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced early Monday that the long-awaited operation to free Mosul from Islamic State had begun.
Mosul, which is located in Nineveh province, is the largest city controlled by the Sunni extremist group. It had a population of more than 2 million before the conflict.
The battle is expected to be a decisive moment in Iraq's fight against Islamic State, which al-Abadi has vowed will be driven out of the country this year.
"The liberation of Mosul and all Iraqi lands from the control of Daesh has become close and its defeat is imminent," Iraqi President Fuad Masum said in a statement Monday, referring to Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.
Masum added that the offensive is a joint effort by the Iraqi military, federal police forces, Kurdish Peshmerga troops, Shiite militias and Nineveh tribes.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that his country will take part in the operation to fight Islamic State in Mosul, even as the Iraqi government rejected this offer and insisted on using its local forces.
Turkey insisted it will not remove its troops from the Bashiqa base north-east of Mosul, despite continued opposition to its presence from the government in Baghdad.
Daesh overran Mosul in mid-2014 at the beginning of a lightning offensive that saw it seize swathes of Sunni Arab northern and western Iraq as Iraqi army and police units collapsed in the face of the onslaught.
The humanitarian situation remains a main concern for international groups. Save the Children said Monday that as Iraqi and coalition forces close in on Mosul, the lives of more than half a million children now hang in the balance, calling for safe routes out of the city to be immediately identified and maintained, and cleared of deadly explosives.
Military commanders have asked vulnerable families and children to stay inside and put white flags on their homes.
"At best this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields. This is unacceptable," Save the Children said.
Aid groups had earlier warned of a potential humanitarian crisis, with up to 700,000 civilians likely to flee the fighting according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
By Resala al-Shakrani
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