World Bulletin / News Desk
The latest developments come within the context of a broad Iraqi army operation -- which kicked off early Monday -- to clear the beleaguered city of members of the ISIL extremist group.
Peshmerga forces, which are now deployed along the Al-Kazir axis east of Mosul, began their advance dawn Monday, capturing eight villages on the city’s outskirts, according to Mustafa Sarhank, a Peshmerga major.
"The advance is continuing; we are now near the intersection of the Al-Hamdaniya district some seven kilometers east of Mosul," Sarhank said.
The captured villages are located along the road linking the cities of Mosul and Erbil, Sarhank said, adding that ISIL militants had torched several oil wells in Al-Hamdaniya as they retreated before the onslaught.
An international anti-ISIL air coalition led by the U.S., he added, had continued to strike ISIL positions along the Al-Khazir axis.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi army’s Ninth Armored Division has penetrated the Al-Kuwer area from two axes amid ongoing clashes with ISIL militants, Yassin al-Nuaimi, a first lieutenant in the division, said.
He went on to predict that the operation to retake Al-Kuwer would take "some time", noting that extremist elements had mined and booby-trapped roads, buildings and sites in the area while deploying snipers in strategic parts of the city’s outskirts.
Al-Nuaimi also pointed out that, as of 13:00 (10:00 GMT), U.S.-led coalition warplanes had not participated in the operation to capture Al-Kuwer.
Early Monday morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of a much-anticipated army operation to "liberate" Mosul from ISIL, which overran the northern city -- along with many other parts of Iraq -- over two years ago.
In a statement, the Kurdish Regional Government’s Peshmerga Ministry announced that at roughly 6:00 a.m. Monday, a "large-scale, coordinated operation was launched by Peshmerga forces in Al-Khazir east of Mosul while Iraqi security forces mobilized from Al-Kuwer and Al-Qayyarah south of Mosul".
The twin moves, the statement added, constituted "a first step toward clearing Ninevah province [of which Mosul is the regional capital] of ISIL extremists".
Along with Iraqi army and federal police personnel, Peshmerga forces, the Hashd al-Shaabi (pro-government Shia militiamen), the Hashd al-Watani (mainly Sunni pro-government militiamen), and the U.S.-led coalition are taking part in the campaign.
In mid-2014, ISIL captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, before overrunning vast swathes of territory in the country’s north and west.
Recent months have seen the Iraqi army, backed by local allies on the ground and the U.S.-led air coalition, retake much territory. Nevertheless, the extremist group remains in control of several parts of the country, including Mosul.
In recent weeks, the army and its allies have staged a gradual advance on the city, which officials in Baghdad have vowed to "liberate" by year’s end.