Iraqi Forces Close in on Town South of Mosul

Iraqi Forces Close in on Town South of Mosul

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Iraq's military closed in Wednesday on the center of Shirqat, a northern town held by Daesh (ISIL) seen as a stepping stone in the campaign to recapture the terrorists' stronghold of Mosul.

The army, backed by local police and tribal fighters, have taken 12 nearby villages since launching the operation Tuesday morning, said Ali Dawdah, the mayor of Shirqat currently based in Erbil.

The troops are now less than 3 km (2 miles) from the town center, according to Dawdah, who said he expected the campaign to be concluded within 48 hours.

Five security personnel and one civilian have been killed in the battle for Shirqat, where they face hazards including roadside bombs, mortars and snipers, said the mayor and a source in the Salahuddin Operations Command which oversees military operations in the area.

Shirqat, on the Tigris river 100 km south of Mosul, has been surrounded by Iraqi troops and popular forces allied to the government but so far the popular forces have not participated in the operation.

Tens of thousands of civilians are thought to be trapped in Shirqat and surrounding villages, which have been under Daesh control since the group seized a third of Iraqi territory in 2014.

Officials have warned for months of a humanitarian disaster inside, where residents living under Daesh's harsh rule say food supplies have dwindled and prices soared.

There has not been a large-scale displacement of civilians so far. Iraqi authorities hope the course of the battle will allow most residents to stay at home to avoid creating a humanitarian crisis as forces move towards Mosul.

Residents of Shukran and Houri villages told Reuters by phone they had begun waving white flags above their houses Tuesday evening as the military advanced, but Daesh punished them with 50 lashes each.

Iraqi officials have said the push on Mosul could begin in October, though there are concerns that not enough planning has been done for how to manage Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, if and when Daesh is kicked out.

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