Iraqi forces advance near Mosul as Islamic State attacks western town

Finan on Thursday became the first USA military casualty in Iraq's offensive to capture the city of 1.5 million people, a highly complex operation that is expected to become the biggest battle fought in Iraq since the 2003 US -led invasion.

Iraqi forces shelled Islamic State positions outside Mosul on Monday as fighting to retake the extremist-held city entered its second week.

Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish region, told US Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the Kurdish fighters had been successful in liberating the town from IS (Daesh).

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

Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, said in a statement yesterday they cordoned about 38 square miles of terrain and secured a "significant stretch" of highway.

Mr Carter said on Sunday that the idea of simultaneous operations against Mosul and Raqqa in Syria "has been part of our planning for quite a while".

For nearly a year, US diplomats have sought to contain the crisis.

Col. John Dorrian, a USA military spokesman, said the coalition had "definitively determined" that it did not conduct the airstrike that killed civilians in Daquq, and had shared its findings with the Iraqi government, which is carrying out its own investigation.

But they are well aware that resistance - already tough in the open fields and small villages surrounding the main prize - is likely to ramp up significantly when the city's perimeter is breached.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi insists the operation is progressing ahead of schedule. The U.S.is prepared to provide additional support for the fight if requested by Iraq and U.S. commanders, Carter said in the capital.

Peshmerga Brig. Gen. Halgord Hekmet, a spokesman for the Kurdish forces, told reporters that 25 of their troops have been killed since the battle to retake Mosul began and a "large number" had been wounded. They say most of the fallen peshmerga troops were traveling in unarmored vehicles.

The peshmerga are advancing toward Mosul from the north in long columns of armored vehicles and other trucks.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Army forces over the weekend seized the strategic town of Bartella, 12 kilometers due east of Mosul. On the outskirts of the town, which sits only a few miles from Mosul, a Kurdish commander told CNN: "They are bad men, they will die".

Mosul is a Sunni majority town, and many worry about the involvement of government-sanctioned Shiite fighters.

ISIS carried out a large assault on the northern city of Kirkuk Friday, in which more than 50 militants stormed government compounds and other targets, setting off more than 24 hours of heavy fighting and killing at least 80 people, mainly security forces.

US military officials say the peshmerga will stop their advance about 20 miles (30 kilometers) outside of Mosul and hold that territory to ensure the militants don't regroup. Coalition forces have advanced to within 5 km (3 miles) of the city at the closest point, the interior minister of the Kurdish regional government has said.

Ankara has several hundred troops stationed at a military base near Bashiqa, where they have been helping to train peshmerga and Sunni fighters. The Turkish government has engaged in an escalating war of words with Iraqi leaders, who say they will treat Turkish troops as invaders.

Turkey also claims that the use of Shia militias to take control of Mosul will displace its Sunni population and urged that the Sunni fighters it has trained to also play a role in Mosul.

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