Iraqi forces are inching closer to the Islamic State (Isis) stronghold of Mosul after retaking the strategic town of Qayyarah on Thursday (25 August). Special forces, with the aid of US-led coalition air strikes, concluded a three-day operation to push the militants out of the northern town, situated on the banks of the Tigris river.

"We control all parts of the town and managed, in very limited time, to root out Daesh," Lieutenant General Riyadh Jalal Tawfik, commander of Iraq's ground forces, told AFP news agency. Engineering units are now clearing the town of unexploded ordnance and booby traps, Taqfik added.

AFP reported that the victory was praised by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as a vital step in the fight against IS (Daesh). "Our heroic forces achieved a big victory, an important step towards the liberation of Mosul," Abadi said. Mosul is the de facto capital of IS in Iraq.

The operation to liberate Qayyarah was led by Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service with the help of small groups of armed residents opposed to the terrorist organisation. "The people were very cooperative, that is why none of them fled, they did not attack our forces and our forces did not hurt them," Tawfik said.

Nineveh Council member Hossam El Din al Abbar released a statement saying there were 25,000 civilians in the town during the operation, according to Iraqi News. Abbar added: "The operation resulted in the death of dozens of Isis members."

Isis in iraq
Iraqi security forces gather on the outskirts of Al Qayyarah, Iraq on 15 August 2016 REUTERS/Stringer

AFP also said that Iraqi forces had previously captured a nearby air field and hopes to make Qayyarah one of the main launchpads for an assault on Mosul. IS fighters had reportedly attempted to block the soldiers' visibility by burning oil tankers and filling the air with black smoke, according to CNN.

Earlier in August, Kurdish Peshmerga forces were successful in retaking a strategic river crossing point near Mosul. Kurdish officials said the victory would allow its forces and Iraqi soldiers, with the support of the US-led coalition, to open a new front against IS. Anti-IS forces hope to liberate Mosul from IS by the end of the year.