October 17, 2016 - 8:59 PM
IRBIL, Iraq - The Latest developments in Iraq's operation to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State group (all times local):
New Zealand on Tuesday announced that it will give 1 million New Zealand dollars ($718,000) to help meet the humanitarian needs of those people affected by the military campaign to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State group. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the funding will be provided through the International Organization for Migration. He said New Zealand has now provided a total of NZ$25 million to assist people in Syria and Iraq.
Iran's state TV reports that the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, says Iran supports the Iraqi government in its fight against terrorism amid an offensive to drive out the Islamic State group from the northern city of Mosul.
Iran is a close ally of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and has sent Revolutionary Guard advisers to Iraq to help organize Shiite militias.
Ghasemi said Monday that Iran supports "any campaign by the Iraqi government against terrorists to drive them out of the country."
He added that Iran would respect any decision by the independent Iraqi government, saying, "We have no intention whatsoever of interfering in the country's internal affairs."
Ghasemi said his country wanted "a stable and developed Iraq which enjoys peace and stability and is capable of defending its territorial integrity and national sovereignty."
The U.N.'s humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq says the operation to wrest Mosul from the Islamic State group has the potential to become the single largest, most complex humanitarian operation in the world in 2016.
Speaking via video-link from Iraq, Lise Grande said Monday that in a worst case scenario, some 700,000 civilians would require shelter, overwhelming emergency sites that currently only have the capacity to hold 60,000 people.
"Our capacity to support 700,000 people in the short-term — we couldn't do it. And certainly if we had to mount a response over the intermediate-term, if they couldn't go back to Mosul quickly, if there was too much damage in the city, then it would test us to breaking point," Grande said.
The president of Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, says Iraqi Kurdish forces retook 200 square kilometres (80 sq. miles) from the Islamic State group on the first day of a massive operation to liberate militant-held Mosul.
Barzani called the territorial gains on Monday a "turning point in the war against terrorism," but warned that pushing the militant group out of Iraq's second largest city will not necessarily mean the end of terrorism or violence in the country.
The Kurdistan Security Council says Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga retook some half dozen villages east of Mosul with close U.S.-led coalition support in the form of airstrikes and heavy artillery. However, some of the villages were comprised of no more than a few dozen homes and none had significant civilian populations.
Barzani says Kurdish forces will not be entering the city itself, but declined to say who would govern territory seized by the Kurds. In the past, Kurdish officials have said all territory retaken from IS by the peshmerga will be incorporated into Iraq's Kurdish region.
A senior military commander says the wide-scale military operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants "is going very well."
The Commander of the Joint Military Operation Commander, Army Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, told The Associated Press in an interview in the town of Khazer that the troops were moving forward according to plan. Shaghati wouldn't give details on the progress.
He praised the role of the U.S.-led International Coalition as "very important" through carrying out airstrikes and sharing intelligence. Citing intelligence information, he claimed some IS militants were fleeing Mosul to Syria along with their families.
The push to retake Mosul is the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, would be the strongest blow yet to IS.
Iraqi Kurdish forces are making slow progress east of Mosul on the first day of the long-awaited offensive to retake the Islamic State-held city.
Long columns of armoured vehicles followed by hundreds of pickup trucks advanced on a cluster of some half dozen villages on the Ninevah plain outside the city on Monday.
U.S.-led airstrikes and heavy artillery pounded the squat, dusty buildings. The area, historically home to religious minorities brutally oppressed by IS, was almost completely empty of civilians, allowing air power to do much of the heavy lifting.
But Lt. Col. Mohammad Darwish of the Kurdish forces known as peshmerga said the main roads and fields were littered with homemade bombs and that suicide car bomb attacks had slowed the troops' progress.
A peshmerga major said some Kurdish fighters entered the villages in Humvees, "but they didn't do anything, not even walk outside on the street." He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief the press.
The major said his men were still waiting for engineering teams to clear the villages. But just a few hundred meters from the front line a bomb disposal team sat idle hours after the operation began, explaining that they had not yet received orders to deploy.
— Susannah George in Khazer, Iraq
A relief organization has warned that thousands in the Iraqi city of Mosul are at risk of getting caught up in the military operations there and face a lack of clear escape routes.
The International Rescue Committee said on Monday that 200,000 people were likely to flee the city in first weeks of the operation, but that only 60,000 tents are available in seven emergency camps. Up to 1 million people in total could flee their homes in search of safety, the group said.
Aleksandar Milutinovic, the International Rescue Committee's Iraq County Director says that "civilians who attempt to escape the city will have little choice but to take their lives into their own hands and pray that they are able to avoid snipers, land mines, booby traps and other explosives."
He says also that oil burning in trenches around the northern Iraqi city will "harm the health of children and the elderly."
The U.N. refugee agency has called on warring parties in Iraq to spare the lives of civilians and not to use them as hostages or human shields amid a wide-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State militants from the northern city of Mosul.
Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, says he raised the issue of protection civilians with the Iraqi government and received "strongest assurances" from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Grandi underlined that protection civilians "will indispensable for the future of Iraq, for the future in which the people of Iraq have live together and build a prosperous country."
The comments came hours after the government of Iraq announced the start of the long-awaited Mosul operation.
The top general in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq says Iraqi forces are ready to retake Mosul and that the coalition is "confident they will succeed."
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky says that "Mosul will be a hard fight, but the Iraqi security forces are ready. They've been waiting to liberate Mosul for two years, and today is the day."
Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a massive operation on Monday to retake Mosul, which fell to IS in the summer of 2014. The U.S. is supporting them with airstrikes, and U.S. soldiers are serving in a support role on the ground.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told CNN that "it's the Iraqis who are in the lead."
Cook declined to address a campaign issue when he was asked about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's comments that by saying what it's going to do, the coalition is telegraphing its moves to the enemy:
He did say, however, that "there is an element of surprise as to how this is going to be carried out."
An Islamic State-run media outlet says the group has launched a series of suicide attacks targeting Kurdish forces advancing on the militant-held city of Mosul.
The Aamaq news agency is claiming eight suicide attacks against the Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga, and says IS destroyed two Humvees belonging to the Kurdish forces and Shiite militias east of the city on Monday.
The Kurdish Rudaw TV meanwhile broadcast images of Kurdish tanks firing on two IS suicide truck bombs, one of which crashed and exploded.
The peshmerga are taking part in a massive operation to liberate Mosul, alongside the Iraqi military, Sunni tribal fighters and Shiite militias. It is the most complex operation launched in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops five years ago.
Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, fell to IS in the summer of 2014.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is determined to be part of the operation to free Mosul from the Islamic State group, as well as in possible talks on the city's future.
Erdogan reiterated Turkey's concerns that the operation, which started early on Monday, could lead to sectarian clashes and maintained that efforts in Iraq to keep Turkey away from the Mosul offensive were linked to Ankara's efforts to prevent any possible demographic change in the region.
Turkey has been warnings about possible sectarian clashes in Mosul if the majority Sunni region were placed under Shiite militia control.
Erdogan says that once Mosul is liberated, Turkey cannot allow "a Sunni-Shiite strife" in the city. He insisted Turkey "will be in the (Mosul) operation and we will be at the table. It is not possible for us to stay outside."
Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus says Foreign Ministry's Undersecretary Umit Yalcin was on his way to Baghdad to discuss the Turkish troops presence at the Bashiqa camp north of Baghdad as well as the Mosul operation.
In other updates, Iraqi officials say the casualty toll from a suicide car bombing a security checkpoint in the town Youssifiyah, just south of Baghdad, has risen to 12 killed and more than 30 wounded.
Turkey's deputy prime minister says some 3,000 Turkish-trained Iraqi fighters are taking part in the operation to wrest the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus also told reporters on Monday that Turkey has no intention of withdrawing its troops from a base in northern Iraq, where they have been training Iraqi forces to fight the IS.
He says that so far, nearly 4,000 Mosul fighters, including Arabs, Turkmens, Kurds, and a number of Yazidis, have been trained in this training camp" in Bashiqa, near Mosul.
Kurtulmus says that "about 3,000 of them have joined the Mosul operation" with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
The Turkish troop presence in the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul has stirred tension with Baghdad. Iraq says they are in "blatant violation" of Iraqi sovereignty and had demanded their withdrawal. Turkey says the troops were invited by Iraqi forces and has ignored the calls.
Iraqi officials say a suicide bombing has targeted security forces outside Baghdad, killing at least nine people.
A police officer says the attacker drove his explosive-laden car into an Iraqi army checkpoint in the town Youssifiyah, located 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the Iraqi capital.
He says five civilians and four troops were killed in Monday's explosion and up to 35 people were wounded. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to release information.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it has all the hallmarks of the Islamic State group, which has staged similar attacks in the past. The attack came just hours after the government announced the start of the long-awaited military operation to drive IS militants from the northern city of Mosul.
—Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad.
Turkey's state-run news agency says the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces have taken control of seven villages east of the city of Mosul and that they control the main road linking the city with the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, Irbil, further to the east.
The Anadolu Agency report is quoting Helgurt Hikmet, a press officer in Irbil, as saying the seven villages that were taken from Islamic State control are: Tercele, Basahra, Little Bedene, Great Bedene, Kebervi, Baskelan and Sheikh Emir.
The agency also says two would-be Islamic State suicide bombers were "neutralized" during the operations on Monday morning but did not provide details.
A very small number of Turkish troops deployed for over a year in Iraqi territory at a base north of Mosul have caused a recent spike in tensions between Iraq and Turkey. Baghdad says they are violating Iraq's sovereignty and has demanded they leave the country, a call Ankara has ignored.
It's still unclear what role, if any, the Turkish troops will take in the Mosul operation, which began on Monday morning. So far, the Turkish forces have been training anti-IS fighters there.
Iraq's special forces say the Iraqi Kurdish troops, known as the peshmerga, are leading the first push on Mosul's eastern front toward the city held by the Islamic State group.
Lt. Col. Ali Hussein says his men are also anxious to move out to the front line as soon as possible but that he expects they will wait near the town of Khazer for another day or two. He spoke just hours after the long-awaited battle for Mosul began on Monday morning.
According to Hussein, an earlier political deal between the country's Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad has agreed that Kurdish forces would advance first and bring a cluster of villages — the home of Christian, Shabak and other minority groups — under their regional control.
Saud Masoud, also with the special forces, says that after the Kurdish troops "take the area that they want," the special forces will then move to the new front and continue the push into Mosul.
A senior U.N. official says he's "extremely concerned" for the safety of civilians in Mosul in the fight to retake the Iraqi city from Islamic State fighters.
Stephen O'Brien, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, said in a statement that "depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as 1 million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario."
He says that families are at "extreme risk" of being caught in crossfire, tens of thousands may end up besieged or held as human shields and thousands could be forcibly expelled.
O'Brien urged all sides "to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they are entitled to and deserve."
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, says the U.S.-led coalition is providing wide support for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the battle for Mosul.
But he stressed, "to be clear, the thousands of ground combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis."
Townsend's statement came shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of operations on Monday to liberate the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.
The U.S. commander pledged the coalition will continue to use "precision to accurately attack the enemy and to minimize any impact on innocent civilians."
He says: "This may prove to be a long and tough battle, but the Iraqis have prepared for it and we will stand by them."
Iraq's military and the country's Kurdish forces are on the move to the south and east of the Islamic State group-held city of Mosul.
The early Monday morning development follows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's announcement that the long-awaited fight to retake Mosul has begun.
Convoys of Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces could be seen moving east of Mosul into the early hours of Monday. Along the front line, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes sent plumes of smokes into the air and heavy artillery rounds could be heard.
Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, has been under IS rule for more than two years and still home to more than a million civilians according to estimates from the United Nations. The fight is expected to be the most complex yet for Iraq's military.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the start of operations to liberate the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.
State TV showed a brief written statement in the early hours on Monday announcing the start of the widely anticipated military offensive to drive IS out of Iraq's second largest city.
The push to retake Mosul will be the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, the strongest blow yet to the Islamic State group, known also by its Arabic language acronym, Daesh.
Broadcasts showed the prime minister, dressed in the uniform of the elite counterterrorism forces, speaking while flanked by senior military officers.
Al-Abadi addressed the people of Mosul, saying that "these forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul, which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake."
News from © The Associated Press, 2016