Aug. 25 (UPI) — Iraqi government forces said Friday they are succeeding in retaking the Islamic State-held city of Tal Afar in the northwestern Ninevah province.
Since Mosul fell to government troops, Tal Afar is the last IS enclave in the province. The battle to retake Tal Afar, a city of ethnic Turkmen and Sunni Muslims, began Sunday.
Iraqi military leaders said the government now controls several of Tal Afar’s districts and suburbs, as well as its electricity plant.
Neighborhoods in the city have been systematically taken by Iraqi troops since Wednesday, the Kurdish news website Rudaw reported.
About 40,000 troops, including those of the Iraqi military, U.S.-led special forces and paramilitary soldiers of the Hasd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization, are involved.
Nearly 500 families fled the city into Syria prior to the start of the battle, Nashwan Ibrahim of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces said. He added that 190 people have been arrested for their alleged connection to IS.
Earlier this week, the United Nations reported that 40,000 civilians left the city at the start of the operations, and about 30,000 remain trapped.
Tal Afar, located 35 miles west of Mosul and on a road from Mosul to the Syrian border, has strategic importance as well a political significance. The battle for Tal Afar could also escalate tensions between Iraq, its ethnic Kurdish minority, Turkey and Syria.
Turkey has a military base near Mosul which it refuses to close, citing its need to protect the Iraqi Turkmen as well as the nearby Turkish border. Kurdish leaders feel threatened by Sunni Arab insurgents, the Turkish forces and an ever-growing number of Shia Arab militiamen. The drive from Tal Afar to Syria is only two hours, and the city could be the location of ethnic and sectarian combat after IS forces are driven out, the BBC said.