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Iraqi, Kurdish forces intensify fighting to take back Mosul from 'Islamic State'

Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi forces have launched an offensive on a town near Mosul as a part of an operation to regain control over the city. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is in Irbil to assess the situation.

Kurdish peshmerga forces said Sunday that they had launched an offensive near the town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. Peshmerga spokesman Halgord Hekmet told reporters that 25 of Kurdish soldiers had died and a "large number" had been wounded since the battle to retake Mosul began last week.

He said his troops had good support from the US-led coalition, but could use more military resources, including armored vehicles. The offensive against "Islamic State" (IS) militants in Mosul began last week and involves US-led coalition warplanes and more than 25,000 Iraqi ground troops.

Ash Carter REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter praised the peshmerga's efforts in the region

Iraqi forces had also launched an assault on Bashiqa, army official Haider Fadhil said Sunday. Soldiers had surrounded and seized parts of the town, he added.

The battle in Mosul is a sensitive affair because of the presence of Iraqi troops, Kurdish peshmerga, Sunni tribes and Shiite militias loyal to the Iraqi state. The communities are, for now, united in their fight against IS, but Sunni-majority territories near Mosul, claimed both by Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi government, could spell trouble in the future.

Carter in Irbil

On Sunday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited the largely Kurdish town of Irbil in Iraq to assess progress in the fight against IS. He met the  Kurdish autonomous region's leader Masoud Barzani and praised the peshmerga's efforts in the region. "They fight extremely well. But because they're fighting hard, they suffer ... casualties," Carter said.

A day earlier, Carter met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and agreed to provide more support if needed. Carter had earlier spoken to Turkish leaders and agreed "in principle" to let Turkey perform a role in the operation against IS in Mosul. Around 500 Turkish soldiers operate a camp in Bashiqa to train Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters.

However, the Iraqi prime minister rejected Turkey's possible participation, insisting that Mosul was Iraq's own battle. "I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul and the rest of the territories," he said.

Karte, Infografik Anti-IS-Koalition offensive on Mosul ENG

Humanitarian crisis in Mosul

Meanwhile, the UN children's agency, UNICEF, said more than 4,000 people had escaped fighting in Mosul since the operation began.

UNICEF's Iraq representative, Peter Hawkins, said that conditions were "very, very poor" and that UN teams had delivered basic supplies expected to last a week.

UNICEF also provided immunizations against polio and measles, which had not been made available to people since the IS terrorists took over the region two years ago. Hawkins said children in the area were at risk of death and injury, as well as sexual violence, kidnapping and recruitment by local militias.

mg/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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