Baghdad: Operations to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh have begun, Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi announced early Monday on state television.
“The time of victory has come and operations to liberate Mosul have started,” he said in an address broadcast by the Iraqiya channel.
“Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh,” he said, addressing residents of the Mosul region.
Al Abadi, the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, was surrounded by top federal officers as he read his statement.
Iraqi federal and allied forces have been tightening the noose on Mosul, the jihadist organisation’s main stronghold in the country, for months.
They recently retook key positions around Qayyarah, a town some 60 kilometres south of Mosul, setting the stage for a final push on Daesh’s northern bastion.
Al Abadi did not provide details of the military operations launched overnight.
Mosul and its surroundings cover a vast area and the various — sometimes rival — forces involved have some distance to cover before they can enter the city proper.
The premier vowed that only government forces would enter Mosul, seized by Daesh with relative ease in June 2014.
“The force leading liberation operations is the brave Iraqi army with the national police and they are the ones that will enter Mosul, not others,” Al Abadi said.
The Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary organisation, which is dominated by Tehran-backed militia groups, has made clear it wants to take part in the Mosul operation.
Kurdish peshmerga forces have been moving in from the eastern side of the city while a US-led coalition is also providing support in the air and on the ground.
Forces operating in Iraq's Mosul theatre
Heavily-armed jihadists who have had years to prepare their defences in Mosul, which Daesh seized before sweeping through cities and towns to the south in 2014. Iraqi forces have since regained significant ground, and Mosul is the last city the jihadists hold in the country.
The most elite forces in the country who have spearheaded most key battles against Daesh. But constant reliance on these troops over the past two years has taken a toll.
The Iraqi army has begun playing a more successful role in operations against the jihadists since it was revitalised by US-led training following several of its divisions collapsing during the Daesh offensive in the north two years ago.
Includes special forces units, paramilitary federal police and local policemen. Many Iraqi police forces have played roles more akin to those of soldiers in the war against Daesh.
A US-led international alliance is carrying out air strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and providing training, arms and equipment to forces opposing the jihadists. There are more than 7,500 coalition military personnel deployed in Iraq, over half of them from the United States. Most are in advisory or training roles, but special forces soldiers who have fought the jihadists on the ground have also been deployed and coalition forces near Mosul have also targeted Daesh with artillery.
Security forces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region who nominally answer to the federal government but in practice operate independently, battling Daesh along a long front in the country's north.
Hashed Al Shaabi
An umbrella organisation created in 2014, which includes a dizzying array of paramilitary forces who vary widely in skill and in the degree to which they are actually under government control. The main groups in the Hashed Al Shaabi are Iranian-backed militias including Ketaeb Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl Al Haq and Badr. The Hashed has played a major role in stopping Daesh's advance as well as regaining ground from the jihadists, but forces within it have also carried out abuses including summary executions and kidnappings.
Iranian forces have provided advice and other assistance including funding for various militias fighting Daesh in Iraq. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards foreign operations wing, has been repeatedly pictured in Iraq during the war.
Deployed at a base near Mosul from which they have carried out artillery strikes against Daesh, Turkish troops are also present inside Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region. The federal government has demanded their withdrawal, with the prime minister vowing that they will not take part in the operation to recapture Mosul, but Turkey has declined to do so.