BBCI: IS conflict: Iraq army makes advances on Tal Afar

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Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi announced the Tal Afar offensive in a predawn televised speech Sunday, warning Daesh extremists that they had "no choice other than to leave or be killed".

In an indication of their next target, Iraqi planes on Sunday and Monday dropped leaflets on the town of Hawijah to the south, urging residents to prepare as "retaking your city is the next goal of the armed forces".

Iraq Shia militiamen, who form the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), helped to regain control of another village in the east, as well as the southern part of the Zambar mountain range and two villages to the north west of Tal Afar.

USA forces are taking part in an ongoing military operation to dislodge the Daesh terrorist group from Iraq's northwestern Tal Afar district, according to an Iraqi military source.

Iraqi forces have made significant progress as they close in on the Islamic State-held town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, the US-led coalition said. Australia's contribution covers training Iraqi security forces, special operations and air strikes.

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"Intelligence gathered shows clearly that the remaining fighters are mainly foreign and Arab nationals with their families and that means they will fight until the last breath", Col. Kareem al-Lami, from the Iraqi army's 9th Division, told Reuters last week.

The Iraqi government, for its part, says USA soldiers are not taking part in the fighting and are only collecting and sharing intelligence and providing Iraq with logistical support. The PMF, a state-sponsored militia organization, has been operating near Tal Afar since October 2016, liberating strategic sites and villages to clear the way to the city.

About 2,000 battle-hardened militants remain in the city, according to US and Iraqi military commanders. According to refugees' testimonies, the ISIS fighters are exhausted, and use tunnel networks to move around the city during the air strikes.

IS in June 2014 overran Tal Afar, a Shiite enclave in the predominantly Sunni province of Nineveh, on the road between Mosul and Syria. Only one part of Tal Afar, Sarai, is comparable to Mosul's Old City, where Iraqi troops were forced to advance on foot through narrow streets moving house-to-house in a battle that resulted in the near total destruction of the historic district. During the insurgency, it was a stronghold of hardline Sunni Muslim militants, who were often engaged in sectarian violence against Shi'ite Muslims.

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