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Iraq army closing in on 'IS'-held Mosul after surrounding strategic village

Iraqi troops are close to recapturing a strategic village near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in northern Iraq. The move comes as "IS" loses ground on several fronts in Syria and Iraq.

The Iraqi army and pro-government militias launched an offensive in March to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, which was captured by IS last summer.

This was quickly put on hold

after Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pulled forces back to Baghdad after anti-government protests threatened instability in the Iraqi capital.

The US-led coalition said Iraqi forces were in the outskirts of the village of Hit Monday and working to surround it.

The development comes after recent gains made by government troops with the recapture in February of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province in central Iraq.

Suicide bombs a last resort?

Meanwhile, six suicide car bombers attacked the Iraqi army as it advanced on the village of al-Nasr Monday, near the Tigris river, after days of heavy fighting, Lt. Col. Mohammed al-Wagaa of the Iraqi army said.

The army's progress in retaking villages around Mosul has been slowed by roadside bombs and other booby traps, he said.

Iraqi forces are having to deal with hundreds of roadside bombs laid by IS fighters along the main roads leading in and out of the village of Hit. Progress was reportedly further complicated by muddy conditions after days of rainfall.

"The roadside bomb is the only weapon they have left to depend on," said Ayad Ghazi, a sergeant with one of the leading battalions inching toward the town.

Counter-attacks

Iraqi officials said a suicide attack south of Baghdad killed at least 14 people Monday. The suicide bomber blew himself up inside a well-known restaurant frequented by Shiite paramilitary militia fighters in Dhi Qar province. At least 27 others were wounded in the attack at the restaurant that sits on the main highway linking Baghdad with the southern provinces.

The attack was only hours after two separate suicide bombings outside Baghdad killed at least 10 troops.

A map of Iraq

A map of Iraq

The deadliest of them took place in Baghdad's northeastern suburb of Sadr al-Qanat where a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into a security checkpoint, killing six troops and wounding 13 others. Another suicide car bomber hit the headquarters of paramilitary troops in the town of Mishahda, 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Baghdad, killing three troops and wounding 10 others.

Meanwhile, a senior Al-Qaida official was killed in air strikes Sunday night that killed at least 21 other militants in Idlib province, a jihadist stronghold in northern Syria.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites, said Abu Firas al-Souri died in US strikes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jets were thought to belong to the Syrian or Russian Air Forces. It said they targeted the headquarters of Jund al-Aqsa, an extremist group that fights alongside al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.

An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter monitors his surroundings from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul

An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter monitors his surroundings from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul

Attacking the Turkish consulate

The Turkish consulate in Mosul was destroyed Monday by US-led coalition jets after being occupied by fighters from the "IS" group, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

"Turkey's views and approval were taken at all stages concerning the preparation and execution" of this operation, the ministry said in a statement issued Monday morning.

The compound had been occupied by "IS" fighters since June 2014, and "high-level" militants were residing there, according to the ministry. "Islamic State" seized 49 Turkish hostages, including Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz and other diplomats, when it overrun Mosul. The hostages were later released, freeing Turkey to take a more active role in the war against IS.

jbh/jil (AP, Reuters)

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