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Middle East

Iraq launches fresh offensive to reclaim IS-held Tal Afar

Iraq's premier has warned militants of the self-styled "Islamic State" to surrender "or be killed." Iraqi forces have made significant gains over the past year, culminating in the liberation of Mosul.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday announced a new offensive to liberate the strategic city of Tal Afar, located 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of Mosul, from the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) militant group.

Dressed in military uniform, al-Abadi warned in a televised speech that the militant group should surrender or meet a violent end.

Read more: Opinion: Will victory against 'IS' bring peace to Mosul?

"I am saying to Daesh that there's no choice other than to leave or be killed," he said, referring the militant group by its Arabic-language acronym.

Watch video 01:42

Iraqi army pushes to retake Tal Afar

Strategic stronghold

Tal Afar has long been a stronghold for hardline Sunni insurgents. It was cut off from other IS-held territories in June during the Iraqi-led operation to recapture Mosul.

According to US and Iraqi military sources, there are roughly 2,000 IS militants in the city. Iraqi authorities are expecting a tough fight, in part due to the fierce resistance they met in the historic district of Mosul before it was fully liberated.

However, civilians who have fled Tal Afar have reported low morale among the remaining militants in the city following months of combat, aerial bombardment and the lack of fresh supplies.

'Victory is coming'

Iraqi warplanes dropped leaflets over the city hours before Baghdad made an official announcement of the new campaign to reclaim Iraqi territory from IS.

"Prepare yourself, the battle is imminent and the victory is coming, God willing," the leaflets read.

Over the past week, the US-led coalition against the militant group has carried dozens of air strikes in Tal Afar and the surrounding areas, targeting command centers and ammunition caches.

Read more: US plan to 'annihilate IS' raises questions over civilian toll, larger strategy

"Intelligence gathered shows clearly that the remaining fighters are mainly foreign and Arab nationals with their families and that means they will fight until the last breath," Iraqi Colonel Kareem al-Lami told Reuters news agency this week.

Al-Lami noted that while most of the city has streets wide enough to allow easy access for military vehicles, there are some areas where Iraqi-led forces will need to move street by street, similar to the final days of the Mosul campaign.

Humanitarian organizations are not expecting a mass exodus similar to that seen during the Mosul offensive. From 10,000 to 40,000 civilians are believed to be in Tal Afar and surrounding areas, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

ls/kl (AFP, Reuters)

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