Iraqi forces enter town as part of drive to retake Mosul from IS
Published 22/10/2016 | 07:41
Iraqi forces pushed into a town near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul on Saturday after a wave of militant attacks in and around the northern city of Kirkuk set off more than 24 hours of heavy clashes.
The Iraqi army said the 9th Division has pushed into the town of Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida, and raised the flag over its central government compound.
The troops were likely still facing resistance in and around the town, and similar past announcements have often proved premature.
Two officers from the 9th Division confirmed troops had captured the government compound and raised the flag over it.
The town is about 12 miles from Mosul. Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale offensive earlier this week aimed at retaking Mosul, the country's second largest city, which fell to IS in 2014.
IS has heavily mined the approaches to Mosul and Iraqi forces have had to contend with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs as they move closer to the city.
Officials from IS claimed they had foiled an attack on Hamdaniyah and seized vehicles and weapons left by retreating Shiite militiamen. The claim, carried by the extremist group's Aamaq news agency, could not be confirmed.
An Iraqi television station says one of its reporters was shot dead near Mosul, the second journalist in as many days to be killed while covering the conflict.
Alsumaria TV says cameraman Ali Risan was shot in the chest by a sniper on Saturday during a battle in the al-Shura area.
Journalist Ahmet Haceroglu of Turkmeneli TV was shot dead by a militant sniper on Friday while covering the IS assault on Kirkuk.
Iraqi forces retook the town of Bartella, about nine miles east of Mosul, earlier this week but are still facing pockets of resistance in the area.
IS militants launched a rocket and opened fire on an Iraqi convoy near the town on Saturday and the Iraqi special forces in the convoy returned fire.
No-one was wounded in the exchange but it highlighted the dangers Iraqi forces face in areas that have recently been retaken from the militants.
In Kirkuk, meanwhile, some fighting continued a day after IS launched a massive attack in and around the city, some 100 miles south-east of Mosul. The assault appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from Mosul.
The area around the provincial headquarters, where the fighting was heaviest on Friday, was quiet.
Witnesses said there were ongoing clashes in the Asra wa Mafkudin area, where at least two IS fighters were killed on Saturday.
On Friday the militants killed 13 workers, including four Iranians, at a power plant north of Kirkuk. It was not clear if there were other casualties among civilians in Kirkuk or the Kurdish security forces who control the city.
A police commander in Kirkuk says the assault by IS on the city that began early on Friday killed at least 80 people, mostly security forces.
Brigadier General Khattab Omer says another 170 people were injured in the assault, which involved a wave of attacks by more than 50 militants.
A burning sulphur plant south of Mosul that was torched by IS was releasing large amounts of noxious gas into the atmosphere, draping towns in the area in toxic smoke.
The fumes make breathing difficult, with residents saying they are suffering from coughing, headaches and nosebleeds from as far as 18 miles away.
A small area hospital has treated some 250 people for breathing difficulties.
Two US military officials said while the fire was set two days ago, the winds shifted earlier on Saturday, sending the smoke south toward Qayara West air field, a staging area for the Mosul offensive.
They said troops at the base were wearing protective masks because of the breathing concerns and estimated it could take two to three days to put the fire out.