Iraq 'needs Kurdish aid' to take Mosul from Isil
The Iraqi army will need Kurdish fighters' help to retake Mosul, the biggest city under the control of Isil, Iraqi finance minister Hoshiyar Zebari said, with the planned offensive expected to be very challenging.
Mosul, 400km north of Baghdad, has been designated by the government as the next target for Iraq's armed forces after they retook the western city of Ramadi.
"Mosul needs good planning, preparations, commitment from all the key players," said Mr Zebari, a Kurd.
"Peshmerga is a major force - you cannot do Mosul without Peshmerga," he added, referring to the armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous northern region close to Mosul.
The mostly Sunni city had a population of two million before it fell to the militants last June in the first stage of their sweeping advance through northern and western Iraq.
The battle of Mosul would be "very, very challenging", Mr Zebari said.
"It will not be an easy operation. For some time they have been strengthening themselves, but it's doable."
Given the extent of the area that needs to be secured around Mosul during the attack, the army may also need to draw, in support roles, on local Sunni forces and possibly the Shi'ite Popular Mobilisation.
The Mobilisation, known in Arabic as Hashid Shaabi, is a loosely-knit coalition of Iran-backed Shi'ite militias set up to fight Isil. It was barred from the week-long battle to retake Ramadi to avoid tension with the Sunni population.
The retaking of Ramadi by Iraq's army marked the first major success of the US-trained force that initially fled in the face of Isil's advance 18 months ago.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Monday night that Isil would be defeated in 2016, with the army planning to move on Mosul.
"We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final blow to Daesh," he said, using the Arabic name for Isil in a speech praising the army's "victory" in Ramadi.
Retaking Mosul would effect- ively mark the end of the caliph- ate proclaimed by Isil in adjacent Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria, according to Mr Zebari.
"It's there where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate," he said, referring to the group's leader. "It is literally their capital."
The Iraqi Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, discussed plans for the liberation of Mosul with Lt Gen Tom Beckett, Britain's senior defence adviser, in September, according to Kurdish TV Rudaw.
Yesterday, an Iraqi military commander said that the centre of the western city of Ramadi was mostly calm, a day after government troops routed Isil militants from the area and recaptured a key government complex.
Brig Gen Ahmed al-Belawi said that engineering teams were clearing bombs from the streets and nearby buildings.
He said sporadic clashes were under way in outlying parts of the city.
Meanwhile, it was reported that about 350 Syrian pro-government militia fighters and civilians from two besieged Shi'ite towns in north-western Syria boarded buses and ambul- ances bound for the Turkish border under a UN-brokered deal among warring parties, aid workers said.
They were then set to board planes from the Turkish city of Hatay and fly to Beirut.
The convoy of evacuees from Kefraya and al Foua was waiting for clearance to drive 25km to the Bab al Hawa border crossing.
At the same time, more than 120 insurgent fighters from the rebel-besieged border town of Zabadani near Lebanon were due to head for Beirut and then fly to Turkey, the aid workers said.