Iraqi forces ready for next battle against IS extremists


Five weeks after securing victory in Mosul, Iraqi forces have moved into positions around the city of Tal Afar, their next objective in the USA -backed campaign to defeat Islamic State militants, Iraqi military commanders say.

On August 18, senior US military leaders said the Iraqi forces were preparing to launch the drive on Tal Afar after completing the bloody nine-month battle to force IS from the major northern city of Mosul.

Last month, a senior Iraqi commander and former Tal Afar mayor said that between 1,500 and 2,000 militants and their families remain in the city.

The town lies at a major crossroads and its recapture by Iraqi security forces was seen as key to preparing the ground for offensives in Anbar province and later Mosul.

Two thirds of Iraqi legislators have recognized Hashd al-Sha'abi as an official force, he stressed. Just three years ago, its soldiers were chased by Daesh group from much of the battlefield.

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the top USA commander in Iraq, told reporters that "the last days of Mosul looked like Iwo Jima to me", referring to a bloody World War II battle in the Pacific.

"In the end, it took bulldozers plowing Daesh fighters under the rubble", he recalled.

Iraqi Humvees emerged shot up, their glass spider-webbed with bullet marks and shrapnel, their weapons worn out or even destroyed.

"I think they are ready", Votel told reporters Friday, echoing Townsend.

The ERD was one of many government security forces supported by the USA led coalition tasked with driving Islamic state out of Mosul.

The city is surrounded by Iraqi government troops and Shiite volunteers in the south, and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in the north. He was ensuring U.S. military advisory teams are with the right local units to provide the best support, intelligence gathering, surveillance and advice.

Abadi early on August 20 said in a televised speech that "the start of an operation to free Tal Afar" had commenced.

The fight will involve a broad spectrum of forces, including the Iraqi army, counterterrorism troops, police and a group of mainly Shia, Iranian-backed militias. Few civilians are believed to be left in Tal Afar, with 49,000 having fled since April. Many are foreigners, he said.

He said the army and security commanders had devised a plan to dislodge Daesh from Tal Afar, which required the participation of security personnel as well as Hashd al-Sha'abi and tribal fighters.