IS auto bomb kills 56, including 20 Iranians, in Iraq

A member of the Iraqi Christian forces Kataeb Babylon stands guard beneath a cross at the Mar Behnam Syriac Catholic monastery in Khidr Ilyas

The attack on Thursday killed about 100 people, a lot of them Iranian pilgrims returning from the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala, according to police and medical sources.

"A large truck exploded among them".

The strategic importance of that stretch of road is that it leads into Mosul, the last stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq.

USA -trained Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service forces are pushing deeper into east Mosul, the last major city controlled by the Sunni hard-line group in Iraq, while army and police units, Shi'ite militias and Kurdish fighters surround it to the west, south and north.

Maan al-Saadi, a commander with the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told AFP on the front line in Mosul that his forces were fighting IS in the neighbourhood of Al-Khadraa.

There was no immediate confirmation available on the airstrike from the US -led coalition.

Abadi tried to allay fears of ethnic and sectarian killings in Tal Afar, saying any force sent to recapture it would reflect the city's diversity.

"The joining of these forces greatly reduces the freedom of movement of ISIL insurgents in and out of Mosul", said Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the US -led coalition, referring to Islamic State.

The US-led coalition also bombed bridges over the Tigris river that splits Mosul in two, reducing the jihadists' ability to resupply the eastern front.

Scores of Iraqi male residents are rounded up by the Iraqi army in Gogjali neighborhood, in Mosul, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016.

Iraqi troops have reportedly liberated more than 100 towns, killed 1,700 terrorists and destroyed 650 of their vehicles since they began the decisive battle.

Among the forces deployed south and west of the city are the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), an umbrella for paramilitaries dominated by Tehran-backed militias.

The authorities have not released casualty figures since the start of the offensive but fighters have admitted being surprised by how fierce Isis resistance has been.

But Islamic State remains in control of the 60 km (40 mile) road between Mosul and Tal Afar, which is hindering the forces battling the jihadists from completing the encirclement of Mosul from the west.

The International Organization for Migration said Thursday that around 76,000 people had been displaced since October 17.

Forces have so far encouraged residents to remain in their homes as they inched through the city, fighting house-to-house.

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