Members of the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi gesture as they take part in their offensive against the ISIS militants west of Mosul. Photo: Hashd al-Shaabi media office.
MOSUL, Iraq - The mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi forces have launched an operation to recapture areas west of Mosul in the early hours of Friday, as the Iraqi forces are engaged in fierce fighting in western Mosul.
The main objective for the paramilitary force is Qairawan and Baa’j located west of Mosul and close to the Syrian border, a senior commander Mahdi al-Muhandis told the Hashd al-Shaabi media office.
The operation is to achieve its objectives in the “next 48 or 72 hours,” Muhandis hoped.
He said the ISIS-held Turkmen city of Tal Afar just east of Qairawan and Baa’j is still besieged by the Hashd al-Shaabi.
The forces have so far liberated several villages, including Um Kaibarirah, the Hashd announced.
The operation began at 6:30 a.m. “to liberate the remaining areas west of the Nineveh [province] stretching to the Syrian border,” Muhandis added.
Iraq’s Joint Command of the Iraqi Army has also referenced the Hashd al-Shaabi offensive, adding that its details will be published later.
The Iraqi forces, including the Federal Police, the Rapid Response Force and the US-trained Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) are continuing their offensive in northwestern west Mosul, a week after the opening of the new front against the ISIS militants north of the city.
Rudaw’s Ranja Jamal, embedded with the Iraqi forces, reported ongoing clashes in the Islah al-Zaraye and Iqtsadiyeen districts northwest of the right bank of the Tigris River that bisects the city.
Iraq’s Chief of Staff Lt Gen Othman al-Ghanimi repeated his optimism that the Iraqi Security Forces are to liberate western Mosul before the start of the holy month of Ramadan on May 26.
"The security forces are carrying out a big and effective effort. I say that Daesh (IS) will be finished in days, God willing," Gen Ghanimi told BBC Arabic on Thursday using another term for ISIS.
"I say that the rest of Mosul will be liberated before the holy month of Ramadan,” he added.
The advancing Iraqi forces were able to bring several areas under their control in the last week, including Mushairafa district northwest of Mosul last Saturday, giving them a foothold.
ISIS captured Mosul, then Iraq’s second-largest city with some two million people, in June 2014 as Iraqi forces by the thousands retreated in the face of fewer ISIS militants.
Mosul is the last major urban area where ISIS still maintains an armed presence.
ISIS is still controls the Turkmen town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul; Hawija, south of Kirkuk; and several places in Anbar province in western Iraq, including al-Qaim and Rawa, near the Syrian border.
According to the Iraqi official figures, about 600,000 people have fled the fighting in Mosul since last October when the Mosul offensive, backed by the US-led Global Coalition, began.
Iraq’s Migration and Displacement Ministry says that 467,000 people have fled their areas in western Mosul since late February when an operation began to defeat the extremist group there, with 425,000 still living in the camps.
Hashd al-Shaabi also declared the ancient town of Hazar, or Hatra, south of Mosul liberated in late April. Hatra is an UNESCO World Heritage-listed site that ISIS is said to have destroyed.
The Hashd al Shaabi, which says it has an armed force of 140,000 fighters, began its offensive southwest and west of Mosul on October 29 almost two weeks after the start of the Mosul operation by Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
The group’s spokesman Ahmad al-Asadi told reporters then in November that it was charged to recapture an area of 14,000 square-kilometers from ISIS.
“The front that has been tasked to the Hashd al-Shaabi is one of the most significant and most dangerous fronts in this operation,” al-Asadi said then. He added that the Hashd “is tasked with one of the widest areas, ranging from Qayyara in the west, Tal Afar in the north to the Mosul outskirts in the east and some areas on the Syrian-Iraqi border to the west.”