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Intense fighting on day 4 of the Mosul offensive


10-21-2016 05:25 BJT

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MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces on Thursday recaptured a town from Islamic State (IS) militants near the city of Mosul, as major offensive continued to seize more ground around the city, a security source said.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi anti-terrorism commandos entered in the afternoon the town of Bartillah, some 20 km east of Mosul, after fierce clashes with IS militants, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

The troops raised the Iraqi flag over the town's buildings, while sporadic clashes and sniper shots continued against IS militants in small pockets in the town, the source said.

The troops killed dozens of IS militants and seized large amounts of weapons, ammunition and explosives, he said.

Earlier in the day, a security source told Xinhua that the troops, with air cover by a U.S.-led coalition, attacked the town of Bartillah from the eastern edge after heavy artillery and mortar shelling, the source said.

The liberation of Bartillah came as part of coordinated attacks by the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi anti-terrorism commandos who advanced before dawn from several directions in areas located in north and east of the city of Mosul.

Other Peshmerga fighters recaptured several other villages, including Nawran, Barmia, Kani Shrin and Sumaqiyah to the northeast of Mosul, while other troops advanced from the north toward the towns of Tal Asquf and Batnaya.

Thursday's battles also came as the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi, spoke by video link to diplomats meeting in Paris, said the Mosul offensive was moving "more quickly than we thought."

Abadi also vowed to protect civilians fleeing the battleground and said the government "will not allow any violations of human rights."

Heavy battles are underway in what is known as Nineveh Plain, which lies to the east and northeast of Mosul, the capital of Iraq's northern province of Nineveh.

Various religious and ethnic minority groups, mostly Assyrian Christians, inhabit the villages and towns of the vast plain.

Many members of the minorities in the plain have fled during the chaos and ensuing insecurity that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Another wave of exodus, mostly non-Sunni Muslim minorities, came after June 2014, when the extremist IS group took control of Nineveh province and seized large parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.

On Oct. 17, Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, announced the start of a major offensive to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city.

Mosul, some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled.

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