Escorted to safety
Iraqi forces are escorting civilians to safety on the eastern outskirts of Mosul.
Carrying what they can, the vulnerable and elderly are streaming out of the area.
ISIL militants have been steadily retreating from areas around Mosul into the city since the battle started on October 17, with air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled Tal Afar as Shi’ite paramilitary groups close in on the ISIL-held town on the road between Mosul and Raqqa.
These are the two main cities of the militant group’s self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Popular Mobiliation units, a coalition of mostly Iranian-trained and backed militias, are trying to encircle Tal Afar, a mostly ethnic Turkmen town.
It is part of the offensive to capture Mosul, the last major city stronghold of ISIL in Iraq.
The offensive started on October the 17th, with air and ground support from a US-led coalition.
It is turning into the most complex campaign in Iraq since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and empowered the nation’s Shi’ite majority.
The exodus from Tal Afar, 60km west of Mosul, is causing concern among humanitarian organisations.
Officials say some of those fleeing are heading deeper into insurgents territory, where aid cannot be sent to them.
Around 3,000 families have left the town.
Around half are heading southwest towards Syria
The other half are heading northward into Kurdish-held territory, according to Nuraldin Qablan, a Tal Afar representative in the Nineveh provincial council.
ISIL started on Sunday evening to allow people to leave after it fired mortars at Popular Mobilisation positions at the airport south of the city.
Popular Mobilisation forces responded, he added.
More than 68,000 people are registered as displaced because of the fighting, according to UN estimates.
The figure does not include the thousands of people reportedly rounded up in villages around Mosul and forced to accompany ISIL fighters to cover their retreat towards the city.
It also does not include the 3,000 families which have fled Tal Afar.
A question of ethnicity
The people fleeing from Tal Afar are from the Sunni community, which makes up a majority in the Nineveh province in and around Mosul.
The town also had a Shi’ite community which fled in 2014 when the hardline Sunni group swept through the region.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has tried to allay fears of ethnic and sectarian killings in Tal Afar.
He has said any force sent to recapture the city would reflect its diversity.
The latest on Mosul
A Mosul resident says air strikes have intensified on the western part of the city, which is divided by the Tigris river running through its centre.
Iraqi military estimates put the number of insurgents in Mosul at 5,000 to 6,000, facing a 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi government units, peshmerga fighters and Shi’ite militias.
Mosul’s capture is seen as crucial towards dismantling the caliphate.
ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, who is believed to have withdrawn to a remote aread near the Syrian border, has told his fighters there can be no retreat.
Iraqi government forces say three neighbourhoods on the eastern outskirts of the ISIL-held city have been secured.
The division has been trying to secure the area of Intisar for nearly three weeks clearing it of booby traps, snipers and remaining militants.
“Our suffering is the suffering of everyone.” pic.twitter.com/nWr7vO9XN0— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 23, 2016
What Turkey says
Turkey is alarmed that regional rival Iran could extend its power through proxy groups to an area to the Turkish and Syrian borders where Ankara is backing rebels opposed to the Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.
Refering to its close ties to Tal Afar’s Turkmen population, Turkey has threatened to intervene to prevent revenge killings should Popular Mobilisation forces storm the town.
What they are saying
“We ask Kurdish authorities to open a safe passage for them,” – Nuraldin Qablan, a Tal Afar representative in the Nineveh provincial council.
“We have cleared the captured neighbourhoods of Shahrazad, al-Shaimaa and al-Intisar, we will keep advancing, spirits are high,” – Colonel Haitham Shakir, Iraqi Army Ninth Armoured Division.
Islamic State group's media arm says an airstrike by US-led coalition has “disabled” 4th Mosul bridge. https://t.co/wCqPXMAkeb— The Associated Press (@AP) November 23, 2016
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