Iraqis, Kurds seize more villages near Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq,  Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken additional villages near Mosul from Islamic State control, adding to the 500 square miles of territory seized in the past week, military officials said.

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Kurdish Peshmerga fighters watching smoke billowing as they deploy in the area in Dohuk, north of Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday. Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken additional villages near Mosul away from Islamic State control, adding to the 500 square miles seized in the past week, authorities said. File Photo UPI | License Photo

Iraq’s Ministry of Defense on Monday said its forces freed the al-Khanfsan and Dor al-Taqa al-Harariyah villages, located south of Mosul. The Iraqi army’s 15th brigade and the Iraqi Federal Police “raised the Iraqi flag over the buildings,” the ministry said, adding that security forces would advance to the Munira village.

Iraqi forces on Monday were also able to repel an Islamic State attack on the town of Rutba in western Iraq, about 200 miles from Ramadi. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi previously warned the Islamic State may launch retaliatory attacks elsewhere in Iraq following the start of the Mosul offensive Oct. 17.Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been waiting for three days for residents in the Fazilliyah village to evacuate before pushing into the village to eliminate the Islamic State, Rudaw reported. Villagers fleeing were seen raising white flags above their homes to warn warplanes not to conduct airstrikes on their property.

 Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis on Monday said the Islamic State has lost about 500 square miles of territory since the Mosul offensive began. The significant gains include the town of Bartella, currently being cleared which is about 18 miles from Mosul’s city center, Davis said.

Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the international anti-Islamic State coalition, said “all objectives met thus far” a week into the Mosul offensive.

Mosul is considered one of the most important battles in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, as it is considered the militant Islamist group’s last major stronghold in the country. Obama and Iraqi officials have said they expect Mosul to be retaken by the Iraqi government by the end of the year.

By Andrew V. Pestano