An Iraqi soldier launches a
rocket-propelled grenade towards Islamic
State militants, west of Falluja,
February 4, 2016.
BAGHDAD: Iraq's military
said on Friday it was mobilizing troops to
prepare for an offensive the government has
pledged to launch this year to retake the
northern city of Mosul from Islamic State.
Hundreds of forces from
the army's 15th division reached Makhmour
base, 70 km (45 miles) south of Mosul, and
more forces, including Sunni Muslim tribal
fighters, were expected to arrive in coming
days, said Brigadier-General Yahya Rasool,
spokesman for the joint operations command.
Defense Minister Khaled
al-Obaidi told Reuters last month that Iraq
would launch the Mosul operation in the
first half of the year and Prime Minister
Haider al-Abadi has said 2016 would see the
"final victory" against the militants.
Some U.S. officials have
endorsed that assessment, but a top U.S.
intelligence officer told Congress this week
any operation to retake Mosul would be long
and complex and unlikely to finish this
With more than a million
people still living there, Mosul is the
largest city controlled by Islamic State,
which declared a 'caliphate' in swathes of
territory it seized in Iraq and neighboring
Syria in 2014.
Retaking it would be a
huge boost for Iraqi forces who, backed by
air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition,
reclaimed the western city of Ramadi from
Islamic State in late December.
Mosul, however, is a far
larger city with a populace made up of many
sects. And even in Ramadi, Iraqi forces are
still working to secure that city and its
Iraq's Rasool told Reuters
on Friday that troop movements south of
Mosul were being coordinated with the
peshmerga, the armed forces of the
autonomous Kurdish region north and east of
Nineveh which are expected to join the
"Once we complete all the
preparations, we will officially announce
the date for the start of Mosul operations,"
The United States, which
is leading an international campaign in both
Iraq and Syria to defeat the jihadist group,
has said its strategy is to regain territory
at the heart of Islamic State's cross-border
state, take Mosul and the Syrian city of
Raqqa, and destroy the confidence of its
fighters that it can expand as a magnet for
Iraq's army, weakened by
years of corruption and mismanagement
following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, is
trying to rebuild itself after collapsing 18
months ago in the face of Islamic State's