Iraq's armed forces went on the offensive against the Islamic State group in the northern province of Nineveh on Thursday in what Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described as the first phase of a campaign to liberate areas around the city of Mosul.
The assault was launched from the Makhmour area, to which thousands of Iraqi troops have deployed in recent weeks, setting up base alongside Kurdish peshmerga and U.S. forces around 60 km south of Mosul, the Islamic State group's main bastion in Iraq.
The northern city is by far the largest population center controlled by the extremist militia. Backed by air power from a U.S.-led coalition of Western and Arab states, and by the Kurdish peshmerga, Iraqi forces advanced westwards at dawn, recapturing several villages from the militants, according to multiple military sources.
A military statement cited by Iraqi state TV said Thursday's advance was the first phase in an operation that aimed to liberate Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital. The statement also urged civilians to stay away from buildings used by the insurgents, warning that they would be targeted in the days to come.