Iraqi police moved on Mosul from the south while elite special forces were clearing mines on the city's eastern outskirts. Meanwhile, Ankara's top diplomat called Iraq "weak" after Turkey deployed tanks near the border.
Security forces advanced toward the town of Hamam al-Alil, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Mosul on Wednesday. The Federal Police has retaken four villages from "Islamic State" (IS) forces, officers said.
"After we liberate Hamam al-Alil and the towns and villages linked to it, the forces will storm the districts south of Mosul then enter the city from the right bank to the west of the Tigris River," Colonel Ahmed al-Jabouri said.
Advance slowed by cloud cover
Also on Wednesday, the counterterrorism units imposed a curfew in Mosul's easternmost neighborhood of Gogjali, searching the newly claimed territory for mines and IEDs. Fresh fighting erupted in the area on Wednesday, a military source told the dpa news agency.
The special forces said they did not intend a further advance on Wednesday. Clouds and bad weather were obscuring the view of aircraft and drones, according to General Haider Fadhil.
Elsewhere, Iran-backed Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, reported that they liberated 46 villages west and southwest of the IS stronghold. The fighters claim to have destroyed 20 car bombs and gunned down dozens of jihadists.
Ankara blasts Iraq amid tensions
The militias' involvement is a major worry for dominantly Sunni Turkey. Earlier this week, Ankara warned the Shiite forces not to "terrorize" ethnic Turkmens in the area and also deployed tanks and armored vehicles near the border. The move prompted a row between Baghdad and Ankara.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday that his country was ready and willing to respond to any "violation" of its territory, although it had no desire for war.
In response, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Abadi of posturing and trying to "play tough."
"If you have the strength, why did you surrender Mosul to terror organizations? If you are so strong, why has the PKK occupied your lands for years?" Cavusoglu said on Wednesday, as quoted by the official news agency Anadolu. "You cannot even fight against a terror organization, you are weak."
Jihadist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on his fighters to resist as Iraqi forces were poised to enter the city of Mosul where he declared a "caliphate" two years ago.
"Do not retreat," Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said in an audio message released early Thursday by the IS-affiliated Al-Furqan media. "Holding your ground with honor is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame," he said in the message. "To all the people of Nineveh, especially the fighters, beware of any weakness in facing your enemy," Baghdadi said.
"This (..) total war and the great jihad that the state of Islamic is fighting today only increases our firm belief, God willing, and our conviction that all this is a prelude to victory," he said.
He also called on the population of Mosul's Nineveh province to fight the "enemies of God" and for the suicide fighters to "turn
the nights of the unbelievers into days, to wreck havoc in their land and make their blood flow as rivers."
dj/msh/jbh (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)