Iraq announced Thursday that its forces have recaptured a northern town from the ISIL group in an operation launched ahead of a push for the city of Mosul.
Security forces began the operation on Tuesday to oust the ISIL group from Sharqat, a town near supply lines needed for the battle to retake second city Mosul from the ‘jihadists’.
Iraqi forces “completely liberated the Sharqat district and raised the Iraqi flag over the government headquarters” in the town, the country’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that hailed the speed of the operation.
Both Iraqi aircraft and the US-led coalition provided air support for the operation, the statement said.
The town lies on the west bank of the Tigris river in Salaheddin province, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northwest of Baghdad and around 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Mosul.
Iraqi forces bypassed Sharqat to retake a key military base to its north as well as the neighboring town of Qayyarah, but then turned their attention to the continued ISIL presence behind their front lines.
ISIL overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi army backed by the popular mobilization forces have since retaken significant ground including the cities of Tikrit, Ramadi and Fallujah.
Once the push is launched, a coalition of heterogeneous and sometimes rival Iraqi forces will have to fight through ISIL defenses — in some cases over distances of dozens of kilometers (miles) from their current positions — to reach the city.
Then, if Iraqi strategy for Mosul follows that used in previous operations, they will seek to surround and seal off the city prior to an assault, which will involve street-by-street fighting against die-hard ‘jihadists’.