Iraqi Kurds say they captured town near Mosul

Kurdish fighters said they had taken the town of Bashiqa near Mosul from Islamic State on Sunday as coalition forces pressed their offensive against the jihadists’ last stronghold in Iraq.

An American official said Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish region, had told U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the Kurds had succeeded in liberating Bashiqa from Islamic State.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters told reporters at the scene that they had entered Bashiqa. Journalists were not being allowed into the town, which lies 12 km (8 miles) to the northeast of Mosul. Its capture, if confirmed, would mark the removal of one more obstacle on the road to the northern Iraqi city.

As Kurdish Peshmerga forces moved though the area, armoured vehicles moved along a road and a helicopter flew overhead.

The offensive that started on Monday to capture Mosul is backed by a U.S.-led coalition. It is expected to become the biggest battle in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Coalition forces have advanced to within 5 km (3 miles) of Mosul at the closest point, the interior minister of the Kurdish regional government has said.

An Iraqi force of about 30,000, joined by U.S. special forces and under American, French and British air cover, is ready to push into Mosul after recapturing Falluja and Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and seizing the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit in central Iraq.

Islamic State have staged attacks apparently aimed at distracting the advancing forces. They hit the city of Kirkuk on Friday and on Sunday they attacked Rutba, a town 360 km (225 miles) west of Baghdad, where they killed at least seven policemen, according to a police source.

The mayor, Imad al-Dulaimi, said the insurgents attacked during the night and gained entry to the town by coordinating with sleeper cells there. About 30 insurgents skirmished with tribal fighters and security forces before vanishing.

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