Kurdish forces have recaptured six villages from the so-called "Islamic State" (IS), southeast of the group's stronghold of Mosul. The liberation came the day after government forces also freed a number of villages.
The Kurdish operation, 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside Mosul, reportedly aimed to "clear several more villages" in a bid to mount pressure on the government to expedite the liberation of the northern city itself, which serves as the de facto capital of IS in Iraq.
Peshmerga Brigadier General Dedewan Khurshid Tofiq on Sunday described the operation as "ongoing." Footage filmed by Rudaw, a local Kurdish-language television network, showed smoke rising from a village, with armored vehicles in the foreground.
A day earlier, Iraqi government forces said they had also taken several villages from the militants in the Qayara area, south of Mosul. Some sources said that a total of 11 villages had been liberated from IS; however, it was unclear how many of the recaptured villages could be attributed to peshmerga fighters and how many were freed by Iraqi government forces.
The total area cleared is reported to be about 50 square kilometers (12,000 acres or 20 square miles).
Offensive against Mosul expected
Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, was seized by Islamic State in a bloody offensive in mid-2014, as the terrorist movement managed to overrun major areas of western and northern Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has vowed to recapture the city by the end of this year, effectively pushing the organization out of Iraq altogether. Iraqi forces, backed by US-led airstrikes have regained much ground from IS over the past year; however, the city of Mosul with its 2-million-strong population, remains difficult to recapture.
It was from Mosul's Grand Mosque, in 2014, that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had declared his "caliphate" spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.
Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the coalition fighting IS, said the preparation for the offensive on Mosul was "approaching the final phase," with an increase in American troop numbers expected to support the operation.
In July, government forces celebrated the capture of the Qayara airbase from IS. The government and the US military say it will be a key strategic point for a planned attack on Mosul.
ss/tj (dpa, AP, Reuters)