Iraqi forces launch push to retake western Mosul from Islamic State

In this Dec. 2, 2016 photo, a group of civilians pass close to the body of an Islamic State militant, while fleeing from Mosul due to ISIS heavy shelling. Photo / AP
In this Dec. 2, 2016 photo, a group of civilians pass close to the body of an Islamic State militant, while fleeing from Mosul due to ISIS heavy shelling. Photo / AP

Iraqi forces launched an operation Sunday to retake the western half of Mosul from the Islamic State group.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation early Sunday morning on state television, saying government forces were moving to "liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression forever", using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Southwest of Mosul, near the city's IS-held airport, plumes of smoke were seen rising into the sky as coalition aircraft bombed militant positions. Further south at an Iraqi base, federal police forces were gathering and getting ready to move north.

Iraqi forces took control of eastern Mosul last month, but the west remains in the hands of entrenched extremists.

Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, is roughly split in half by the Tigris River. The battle for Mosul's western half is expected to be prolonged and difficult, due to denser population and older, narrower streets.

- AP

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