Battle for Mosul: Iraq forces close in on more villages

Iraqi forces have fought their way into two villages near Mosul as the offensive to retake city enters its second week.

Aljazeera reports that Iraqi special forces began shelling ISIL positions before dawn on Monday near Bartella, a historically Christian town to the east of Mosul that they had retaken last week.

With patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers on their Humvees, they then pushed into the village of Tob Zawa, about 9 kilometres (5.5 miles) from Mosul, amid heavy clashes.

After entering the village, they allowed more than 30 people who had been sheltering in a school to escape the fighting.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in 2014.

Several countries are involved in the battle to reclaim the city, including Turkey which on Sunday confirmed its first attempted shelling of ISIL positions near Bashiqa, a key town near Mosul, at the request of Peshmerga forces.

“The Peshmerga forces have now reached the town of Bashiqa but are not inside it yet,” said Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Erbil.

“It may take a few days. They [Peshmerga] suspect that there are a few ISIL suicide bombers inside.”

Turkey’s moves on Sunday raised tensions between Ankara and Baghdad. Relations have been strained after Turkey sent hundreds of troops to the Bashiqa region to train anti-ISIL fighters.

Baghdad labels the move a violation of its sovereignty and demands Turkish withdrawal, a call which Ankara ignores.

Elsewhere, the Iraqi Federal Police, a military-style force, pushed into a small village in the Shura district south of Mosul, where they fired a large anti-aircraft gun and rocket-propelled grenades as they battled ISIL fighters.

They later appeared to have secured the village, a cluster of squat homes on a desert plain, and handed out water and other aid to civilians.

The US-led coalition said it had carried out six air strikes near Mosul on Sunday, destroying 19 fighting positions and 17 vehicles, as well as rocket and mortar launchers, artillery and tunnels.