Iraqi Troops, Peshmerga Advance On Three Sides of Mosul

Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces are poised on three sides of Mosul after a weekend in which they seized villages and towns to the south, east, and north of the Islamic State (IS) stronghold in northern Iraq.

Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi Army troops, backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, have been coordinating their efforts -- with Peshmerga fighters seizing eight villages on the northeastern flank on October 23 and advancing within 9 kilometers of Mosul.

Masud Barzani, president of the Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region, told U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter that Kurdish Peshmerga also seized control of the strategic town of Bashiqa, about 24 kilometers northeast of Mosul.

The top U.S. Army commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, said his own information "suggests that President Barzani is right, that there has been a considerable success at Bashiqa."

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkish tanks and artillery were supporting the Peshmerga -- despite calls from Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in Baghdad for the Turkish forces in the area to stay out of the battle.

CNN Turk quoted Yildirim as saying the Peshmerga "have mobilized to cleanse the Bashiqa region" from IS militants and "had asked for help" from Turkey's military.

Ankara's latest involvement in northern Iraq could further increase tensions with Baghdad.

The town of Bashiqa has been a front line position between IS militants and Peshmerga fighters since it was seized by IS in August 2014.

Some 500 to 1,000 Turkish troops have been positioned to the east of the town since late 2015 at a military base known as Camp Bashiqa where they have been training Sunni Arab tribal militia fighters and Peshmerga troops for the fight against IS.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Army forces over the weekend seized the strategic town of Bartella, 12 kilometers due east of Mosul.

Bartella controls access to Iraq’s Highway 2, which links Mosul with Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region.

Iraq's army also seized control on October 22 of the historically Christian town of Hamdaniyah, which controls the strategic crossroads to the southeast of Mosul.

Iraqi forces also hold blocking positions to the south of Mosul and, early on October 23, entered the last settlement on the northern approach to the extremist-controlled stronghold -- the village of Tall Kayf, which is 5 kilometers due north of Mosul.

However, reports early on October 24 suggest IS militants still controlled territory to the west of Mosul -- including positions along Iraq’s Highway 2 leading into Syria.

Western leaders have expressed concern that IS fighters will try to blend in with civilians fleeing westward from Mosul.

But military analysts say they think most foreign IS fighters within Mosul will stay to fight from positions within the city.

As the Iraqi-led offensive has been advancing to positions that put its tanks and artillery within range of the city, IS militants have tried to counter the offensive against Mosul by launching their own attacks further to the west and to the southeast of Mosul.

An IS attack on October 23 against government forces at Rutba, a town in the far western part of Anbar Province on a highway leading to southern Syria, has led to calls from local officials for reinforcements from Baghdad.

Two days earlier, on October 21, Iraqi security forces repelled a major attack by IS militants on the oil-producing city of Kirkuk, about 175 kilometers southeast of Mosul.

With reportng by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa