Iraqi security forces retake four neighborhoods in Tal Afar

Waves of civilians have fled the city and surrounding villages under cover of darkness over the past weeks, although several thousand are estimated to remain, threatened with death by the militants who have held a tight grip there since 2014.

On July 10, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially declared the liberation of Mosul from IS after almost nine months of fierce fighting to dislodge the extremist militants from their last major stronghold in Iraq.

Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate all but collapsed last month when US -backed Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul after a brutal nine-month campaign.

Speaking at a youth meeting on July 29, Abadi said Hashd al-Sha'abi fighters would take part in the offensive to win back Tal Afar.

Members of the Kurdish Workers' Party and USA forces have joined the Iraqi military in the battle, according to Member of the Parliament of the Regional Administration of Iraqi Kurdistan Aydin Maruf.

Tal Afar had a pre-war population of about 200,000.

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Attired in the black uniform of Iraq's special forces, Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced the operation, dubbed "We Are Coming, Tall Afar", in a televised speech early Sunday.

"[We] advanced three kilometres from the southern direction toward Tal Afar and gained control on four hills that overlook the town from the same direction", a statement by the mostly Shia militia coalition published on Iraq News.

Tel Afar is the last IS-held region in Nineveh province, after the liberation of Mosul, which used to be the radicals' main bastion in the Arab country.

"We have information about the presence of foreigners within Daesh ranks in Tal Afar, but we do not know their identity", Asadi pointed out.

The Shi'ite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), some of whom are trained and armed by Iran, confirmed they are also taking part in the battle.

Coalition officials estimate that 10,000 to 50,000 civilians remain in and around Tal Afar, the task force statement said, and the coalition applies rigorous standards to its targeting process and takes "extraordinary efforts" to protect noncombatants. Grande says more than 30,000 people have already fled, but didn't say since when.

  • Megan Austin