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Iraq launches Mosul offensive to drive out Islamic State | Reuters

Firstpost Monday, 17 October 2016
By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Rasheed | EAST OF MOSUL/BAGHDAD EAST OF MOSUL/BAGHDAD Iraqi government forces launched a U.S.-backed offensive on Monday to drive Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, a high-stakes battle to retake the militants' last major stronghold in the country.Two years after the jihadists seized the city of 1.5 million people and declared a caliphate from there encompassing tracts of Iraq and Syria, a force of some 30,000 Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Sunni tribal fighters began to advance.Helicopters released flares and explosions could be heard on the city's eastern front, where Reuters watched Kurdish fighters move forward to take outlying villages.A U.S.-led air campaign has helped push Islamic State from much of the territory it held but 4,000 to 8,000 fighters are thought to remain in Mosul. Residents contacted by phone dismissed reports on Arabic television channels of an exodus by the jihadists, who have a history of using human shields and have threatened to unleash chemical weapons."Daesh are using motorcycles for their patrols to evade air detection, with pillion passengers using binoculars to check out buildings and streets," said Abu Maher, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.He and others contacted were preparing makeshift defences and had been stockpiling food in anticipation of the assault, which officials say could take weeks or even months.

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