Kurdish Peshmerga forces launched a fresh attack on Islamic State militants in northern Iraq in the early hours of Sunday, as part of a plan to close in on their de facto capital Mosul, a Kurdish official said.
The offensive began after heavy shelling and several airstrikes, a Reuters correspondent reported from Wardak, 30 km (19 miles) south-east of Mosul, where some of the Peshmerga forces are deployed. Clouds of black smoke could be seen at a distance, possibly tires or other items set on fire by the militants to obstruct the planes’ visibility.
The Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdish self-rule region are gradually taking up positions around Mosul, 400 km (248 miles) north of Baghdad, from whose Grand Mosque in 2014 Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.
Mosul is the largest urban center under the militants’ control, with a pre-war population of nearly 2 million.