Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Tuesday (20 September) that the military had launched an operation to retake Shirqat from the Islamic State (Isis) some 100km south of the terrorist organisation's Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. The town, located on the banks of the Tigris River, is surrounded by Iraqi troops and allied Shi'ite Muslim militias.
According to Reuters, the northern town is believed to have tens of thousands of civilians. The residents living under Isis (IS) rule are said to be experiencing a humanitarian crisis with dwindling food supplies and skyrocketing prices.
Abadi made the announcement in a televised message from New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly. The prime minister said that Iraqi forces would also fight to recapture two areas in western Anbar province.
"These operations pave the way for cleansing every inch of Iraqi land and God willing its end will be the liberation of Mosul city, ... the liberation of all Iraqi lands and the end of Daesh," Abadi said using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Abadi met with US President Barack Obama on Monday, where they discussed an offensive to retake Mosul. Obama said that the fight to liberate the IS stronghold could "move forward fairly rapidly," according to the Washington Post. He noted: "This is going to be a challenging battle, Mosul is a large city."
The US president said that preparations for the fight had begun. Iraqi and Kurdish forces have already made their way to the area. Obama said the rebuilding and governing of the city after IS is expelled will be a crucial phase of the battle.
He reportedly told Abadi it would be critical to rebuild Mosul in "a way that assures not only Isil does not come back but that its extremist ideology born out of desperation will not return". The Post reported the two leaders also discussed the importance of getting humanitarian aid quickly into the city.
Abadi has repeatedly promised to liberate Mosul by the end of the year, with operations beginning as soon as October. The city, which is Iraq's second largest, came under IS control in 2014. According to Reuters, IS also controls Hawija, south of Mosul and east of Shirqat, and the city of Tel Afar, west of Mosul heading towards the Syrian border. In August, Iraqi forces liberated the town of Qayyarah from Daesh.