Iraqi Forces Accelerate Their Mosul Offensive

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Baghdad: Iraqi forces battled on Sunday through booby-traps, sniper fire and suicide car bombs to continue their Mosul offensive, while also hunting Islamic State (IS) group jihadists behind attacks elsewhere in the country.

Kurdish forces announced a new push at dawn Sunday on Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul where some 10,000 fighters are engaged in a huge assault to take the IS-held town. The push came with U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan to support the unprecedented offensive, which a U.S.-led coalition is backing with air and ground support.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces are within five miles (eight kilometers) of Mosul. A coalition of 100,000 troops have been closing in on Mosul since Monday.

The jihadists hit on Friday with a surprise assault on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk and two days later security forces were still tracking down fighters involved in the attack.

The dozens of attackers, including several suicide bombers, failed to seize control of key government buildings but sowed chaos in Kirkuk, a large oil-rich and ethnically mixed city.

At least 51 of the jihadists had been killed, including three more on Sunday, local security officials said.

Sporadic clashes continued, a senior security official said, with forces besieging IS gunmen in Kirkuk’s Nidaa neighbourhood.

On a trip to Iraq to review the operation, Mr. Carter met Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Saturday and Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Sunday. A French government official told AFP the breach into Mosul, which could mark the beginning of a phase of fierce street battles with IS, could still be a month away.