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Iraqi advance on Mosul slows after day of fighting


Iraqi forces are deployed during an offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants (AP)

Iraqi forces are deployed during an offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants (AP)

Iraqi forces are deployed during an offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants (AP)

The pace of operations has slowed in the fight to retake Mosul from Islamic State, as Iraqi forces advancing to the east and south of the city began pushing towards larger villages and encountering civilian populations.

Iraq's Kurdish fighters, also known as the peshmerga, largely paused their advance, according to commanders stationed along the front to Mosul's east, consolidating gains from the previous day.

Iraqi army forces advanced to the south and east of Mosul, reaching the outskirts of the town of al-Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town once home to tens of thousands, east of Mosul.

On the southern front, Iraq's federal police pushed up to the town of al-Houd, still home to hundreds of people, according to estimates from the United Nations.

Iraqi army Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Shaker said al-Hamdaniyah has been surrounded and his forces have retaken six other villages over the past two days.

More than 25,000 troops have mobilised for the Mosul fight, a massive operation that is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Iraq's second largest city is still home to more than a million people and humanitarian groups have warned that up to a million could be forced to flee, unleashing a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

"The operation is going according to schedule and we have been very successful," said Iraqi army Major General Qassim Al-Maliki.

"The enemy is pulling back but they are leaving small mobile units behind, each composed of three to four persons, and we are mopping them up."

On Monday, Kurdish forces had retaken some 200 square kilometres (80 square miles), according to Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region.

Peshmerga commanders on the ground estimated they retook nine villages and pushed the front line with IS back eight kilometres (five miles).

The front line east of Mosul is now some 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the city.

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On Tuesday morning, those front lines were largely quiet, a day after Iraqi Kurdish forces advanced amid a barrage of US-led air strikes and heavy artillery.

"We are just holding our positions," said Colonel Khathar Sheikhan, of the peshmerga. "The Iraqi army will now advance past our arenas of control."

"We have achieved our objectives," he said.

In Washington, president Barack Obama said the military operation to reclaim Mosul from IS militants will be a "difficult fight".

He said there will be advances and setbacks but added that driving IS from Iraq's second-largest city "will be another step towards their ultimate destruction".

A spokesman for the US-led coalition said the operation was proceeding as planned and that Iraqi forces were making "excellent progress".

"There's no pause in efforts to liberate Mosul. Troops are on the move on various axes of advance towards the city," said Colonel John Dorrian.

"Some commanders have reached their objectives ahead of schedule after encountering light-to-moderate resistance."

A Pentagon spokesman said more than 100 US troops are embedded with Iraqi forces, including the peshmerga.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the Americans are "well back" from the front lines as they advise the Iraqis and perform other tasks such as relaying information about potential air strike targets. Hundreds of other US troops are in support roles, such as processing intelligence and providing logistical help from Iraqi staging bases.

In Baghdad, thousands of followers of an Iraqi Shiite cleric marched in front of the Turkish embassy on Tuesday demanding the withdrawal of Turkish troops from a base near Mosul.

"Get out, get out, occupier!" and "Yes, yes, for Iraq," chanted the followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Turkey says the troops are training Iraqi fighters to help retake Mosul, and that they are there with the permission of the Iraqi government.

Baghdad denies it granted permission and has ordered the Turks to withdraw - a call Ankara has ignored.

The spat has raised concerns that the defeat of IS could lead to renewed conflict among the various fighting units currently allied against it.

Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim said that the fighters who were trained at the Bashiqa camp near Mosul were at the forefront of the Mosul operation, fighting alongside Kurdish forces.

"Those who say Turkey has no business in Mosul have got their answer," he said.


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