MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 16 (UPI) — As Iraqi forces have massed in areas surrounding Mosul during the last several weeks and months, preparing for an invasion to retake the city from Islamic State, members of the militant group have been threatening to cut out the tongues of people using the word “liberation.”
Sunday night the Iraqis launched a U.S.-backed offensive to take Mosul back from the Islamic State, which has held it for two years since the group declared itself a caliphate.
Mosul is the last remaining stronghold of the group — also known as the ISIS, ISIL and Daesh — in Iraq, as the militants have already lost Tikrit, Ramadi and Fallujah.
“We will soon meet in Mosul to celebrate in liberation and your salvation,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said during a televised address before the invasion began. “We will rebuild what has been destroyed by this criminal gang.”
Iraqi government forces are asking civilians to cooperate with them as they slowly clear towns house-by-house.
In advance of the start of military action, the government dropped leaflets to alert civilians to operations in the town. The Islamic State is expected to have set up defensive efforts, including heavily booby-trapped areas that will pose dangers even after air campaigns have destroyed buildings and roads.
The mission includes members of the Iraqi armed forces and national police coming from the south and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters attacking from the north and east. While the United States will participate in airstrikes as part of the operation, focusing on Islamic State commanders in the city, Green Berets accompanying Iraqi troops will not take part in the actual fight on the ground.
The mission is launching with 30,000 Iraqi and Kurdish forces to free about 1 million civilians from Islamic State rule, and many in the city are expected to flee when the fighting begins.
The Iraqi government is already working with the United Nations and other nongovernmental organizations to plan for for those who leave the city in what U.S. Air Colonel John Dorrian said will be the largest mission the Iraqi armed forces have mounted against the militant group.