The battle to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul – the capital of ISIL’s so-called caliphate – has begun.
The long awaited assault is being carried out by Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi government and allied forces backed by a US-led coalition.
With a pre-war population of around 2 million, Mosul is around 4-5 times the size of any other city recaptured so far from the militants, who swept through northern Iraq in 2014 and also hold a swathe of Syria.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation in the early hours of Monday morning saying it comes after “two years of darkness” under ISIL.
“I announce today the start of this heroic operation to seek the liberation from the oppression and terror Daesh. We will meet soon in Mosul to celebrate its salvation. The main troops which are participating in this operation are the Iraqi army and police forces and only they will enter the city of Mosul to liberate it.”
Mosul is ISIL’s last major stronghold in Iraq. It’s been under the brutal control of the jihadists since June 2014
Shortly before the assault the Iraqi army dropped tens of thousands of leaflets over Mosul warning residents of the imminent offensive, assuring them the advancing army units would not target civilians.
However the UN has warned that the humanitarian impact could be “enormous”, and affect up to 1.2 million people.