The Hashd al-Sha’abi (Iraqi popular forces) killed a cousin of ISIL ringleader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi near Sharqat region of Salahuddin province.
Abu Hajar, a notorious ISIL commander, was killed as the Iraqi army and popular forces have started operations to liberate the strategic city of Mosul in Nineveh province from the terrorist group’s control without the presence of foreign troops.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced early on Monday that the country’s armed forces and popular troops had started large-scale operation to take back the ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital, Mosul.
Prime Minister Al-Abadi appeared on the state TV early Monday morning to declare that his country’s army, security and mobilized volunteer troops have started the long-awaited offensive to take back the country’s second-largest city.
“The hour has come and the moment of great victory is near,” Al-Abadi said in a speech on state TV, flanked by the armed forces’ top commanders.
Al-Abadi vowed that the military troops will take maximum caution to save civilian lives and avoid collateral damage in the city that is believed to still be home to over a million people.
The premier asked the civilian population to raise white flags over their buildings and contact the government troops for any kind of helpful information that they might have about ISIL militants.
“We urge you, the heroic people of Mosul, to cooperate with our security forces to rescue you,” the Prime Minister added.
Mosul in Nineveh province that is ISIL’s last stronghold in Iraq was occupied by the terrorist cult on June 10, 2014 and its liberation marks an era of demise for ISIL in Iraq.
Mosul was the first city taken by the terrorist group and it was there that ISIL Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared his so-called caliphate on June 29, 2014.
ISIL could stretch control over 40 percent of Iraq after it took Mosul over two years ago, but now holds only 10 percent of the country after losing battles in such major cities as Beiji, Tikrit, Fallujah and Ramadi in the last one year.
Mosul is of paramount importance both to Iraq and the ISIL as it is in an oil-rich region close to the borders with Syria and Turkey, while it has been a regional trade hub for the last several centuries. In addition to smuggling crude stolen from the oil wells of Nineveh, ISIL also levied forceful taxes for various reasons from the over 1-million-strong population that is still believed to be living in the city. Loss of Mosul will inflict a major blow to the terrorist cult as it will lose a major source of its revenues.
Iraqi army troops and volunteer forces (Hashd al-Shaabi) had been deployed 15 kilometers from Mosul two days ago.
“The reconnaissance operation in Mosul ended; we are waiting for the operations to kick off,” Hashd al-Shaabi announced in a statement on Saturday.
Iraq’s military forces have been bringing in a large number of troops, weapons, ammunition, armored vehicles, personnel carriers, tanks and other types of military equipment in preparation for the operation for the last several weeks, but many military and state officials and popular forces’ commanders were slamming the US for pressurizing Baghdad to delay the operation for the last several months, a view that was even supported by US presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In his second televised debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump asked why the US has been hindering the operation for such a long time to give ISIL commanders and top brass to escape to Syria.
ISIL has also been preparing for the operation for the last several weeks. The terrorist group has reportedly used thousands of prisoners to dig a complicated network of tunnels and trenches around the city and filled the wide trench dug around the city with oil to put it on fire as it expects the city to go under siege by Iraq’s joint military troops. The terrorist group has opened multiple fronts to confront the government troops.
Meantime, many ISIL top commanders, including Al-Baghdadi himself and his deputies, as well as their family members have left the city for Raqqa, the terrorist cult’s second self-proclaimed capital.
Al-Baghdadi and his top aides left the city last week, while local sources in Nineveh disclosed on Sunday that the families of the ISIL terrorists that had left Mosul just arrived in the town of Merkedeh in Syria’s Hasaka province.
“The ISIL commanders, including al-Baghdadi, are escaping Mosul to Syria,” Iraqi Kurdistan Democrat Party’s media director Saeed Mamouziti said last week.
He said that al-Baghdadi has also ordered his followers to completely destroy Mosul if they are defeated in the war against Iraq’s joint military forces.
Later Mamouziti said that the ISIL militants were fleeing the city since the long-awaited large-scale operation to free Mosul was expected to be launched in the following days.
Meantime, local sources revealed that “ISIL commanders’ families, including over 25 foreign families, escorted by military convoys reached the town of Merkedeh” on Sunday.
Earlier on Sunday, local sources in Nineveh province disclosed that the ISIL has brought to a halt all activities of its security offices in the city of Mosul.
“The ISIL has recently issued a circular in Mosul city according to which all its offices will halt operation until further notice,” a local source said.
The source noted that the ISIL has already evacuated its security offices in several districts of Mosul in recent days, while many ISIL members seem confused to see the rush in their commanders’ actions.
The US has also been pressuring Baghdad to keep the Hashd Al-Shaabi away from the operation, but they are now deployed to the battlefield after Prime Minister al-Abadi, the commander-in-chief of Iraq’s armed forces, personally approved their participation in the Mosul operation last week.
The Iraqi media had earlier reported that the Mosul operations would start from several directions, the most important of which are al-Qayyara axis located 60 kilometers to the South of Mosul and Sahl Nineveh some 20 kilometers to the East of the city.