20 Aug 2017

IS conflict: Iraq launches ground offensive in Tal Afar

8:05 pm on 20 August 2017

Iraqi ground forces have begun an operation to retake Tal Afar, one of the last cities in the country held by the Islamic State group, officials say.

Iraq forces heading towards Tal Afar.

Iraq forces heading towards Tal Afar. Photo: AFP PHOTO / HO / IRAQI FEDERAL POLICE

In a televised speech announcing the offensive overnight, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the jihadists had the choice between "surrender or die".

The army targeted Tal Afar after seizing Mosul, IS's main stronghold 55km to the east, in July.

Tal Afar, which has a mainly Shia-Muslim population, fell to IS in 2014.

It sits on a major road between Mosul and the Syrian border that was once a key supply route for the jihadist group.

Iraqi warplanes have bombarded IS positions in the city for several days, in preparation for ground operations.

On Sunday Mr Abadi, dressed in a black military uniform and standing in front of an Iraqi flag and a map of the country, announced the "start of an operation to free Tal Afar".

"I am saying to Daesh [the Islamic State group] that there is no choice other than to surrender or die," he said.

He finished his speech with an address to Iraqi troops: "The whole world is with you."

Hours before Mr Abadi's statement, the Iraqi air force dropped leaflets over the city warning people to "prepare" for the latest assault.

"The battle is imminent and the victory is coming, God willing," the leaflets read.

Tal Afar is surrounded by government troops and Shia militiamen in the south, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.

Last month, a senior Iraqi commander who once served as mayor of Tal Afar said there were between 1500 and 2,000 militants and their family members left in the city.

- BBC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs