|Published : 22 Sep 2016, 14:50:01 | Updated : 22 Sep 2016, 14:50:42|
Iraqi army says it reached centre of key town south of Mosul
Iraq's military backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition on Thursday seized the centre of Shirqat, a northern town seen as a stepping stone in the campaign to recapture Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS).
The army, backed by local police and Sunni Muslim tribal fighters, were still clashing with the ultra-hardline jihadists after taking control of the mayor's office, the municipal building, and the hospital, said a source from the Salahuddin Operations Command, which oversees military operations in the area.
Shirqat, on the Tigris river 100 km (60 miles) south of Mosul, has been surrounded by Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militias allied to the government but the militias so far have not participated in the operation.
Iraqi forces have advanced swiftly through the Shirqat area since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the operation on Tuesday morning.
The town's proximity to Iraqi supply lines reaching Qayyara airbase further north, which will be used as a logistics hub for the push on Mosul, lends it strategic importance. A rocket attack on Tuesday that came within hundreds of metres of US forces at the base is being tested for chemical agents.
Remaining Islamic State fighters in Shirqat are resisting in groups of three and four from inside houses, according to the Iraqi operations command source, who said three army personnel had been killed in recent hours; according to Reuters.