Iraqi Kurdish fighters claim town in advance on Mosul

  • 24/10/2016

Kurdish fighters say they've taken the town of Bashiqa near Mosul from Islamic State as coalition forces continue their offensive against the jihadists' last stronghold in Iraq.

Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish region, told US Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the Kurds had succeeded in liberating Bashiqa from Islamic State on Sunday.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters told reporters at the scene that they had entered Bashiqa.

The top US commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, said his own information - while limited - "suggests that President Barzani is right, that there has been a considerable success at Bashiqa".

Mr Townsend told journalists that Bashiqa was one of the villages outside Mosul that Islamic State had emptied of civilians and fortified over the past two years.

Reuters television footage from Nawran, a town near Bashiqa, showed Kurdish fighters using a heavy mortar, a machine gun and small arms as smoke rose over the area.

The offensive that started on Monday to capture Mosul is backed by a US-led coalition. It is expected to become the biggest battle in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Coalition forces have advanced to within 5km of Mosul at the closest point, the interior minister of the Kurdish regional government has said.

An Iraqi force of about 30,000, joined by US special forces and under American, French and British air cover, is ready to push into Mosul after recapturing Fallujah and Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and seizing the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit in central Iraq.

Islamic State hit the city of Kirkuk on Friday and on Sunday they attacked Rutba, where they killed at least seven policemen, according to a police source.

Mr Townsend said the attacks are intended "to try to draw our attention from Mosul".

In an attempt to repel the offensive against Mosul, Islamic State also set fire to a sulphur plant near the city.

Up to 1000 people were treated in hospital after inhaling toxic fumes.

Coalition officials have said the offensive is going well, but that it will take a long time to recapture Mosul, which has a civilian population of 1.5 million.

Between 4000 and 8000 Islamic State fighters have rigged the city with explosives, built oil-filled moats, dug tunnels, and trenches and are feared to be ready to use civilians as human shields.

Mr Carter sounded optimistic about the campaign to take Mosul during a trip to Erbil as he praised the Kurdish region's Peshmerga fighters.

Peshmerga spokesman Brigadier General Halgord Hekmet told reporters that 25 Kurdish forces had been killed so far.