UPDATED: PMUs launch new phase of offensives on western Mosul’s Tal Afar

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) in western Mosul.

Nineveh ( Al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) have announced a new phase of operations targeting the liberation of the Islamic State western Mosul stronghold of Tal Afar, and recaptured two villages upon starting.

The PMU’s media service said in a statement that the force launched a sixth phase of operations targeting areas south of the strategic town. It said the forces took over the villages of Kharabat al-Jeheish and al-Sharia. The troops also invaded Ein al-Tallawi village under an aerial bombardment from Iraqi jets, killing a suicide bomber and destroying a booby-trapped vehicle. IS fighters attempted to stymie the troops advances with booby-trapped herds of sheep, according to al-Hashd’s media.

The Iraqi government declared last Sunday it launched a new, decisive stage of operations against Islamic State in western Mosul, having retaken the eastern region late January after three months of battles.

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, a conglomerate of Shia volunteer militias, have been actively fighting Islamic State militants on the Iraqi government’s side since the group emerged in 2014 to proclaim an “Islamic Caliphate” in Iraq.

PMUs, which gained state recognition as a national armed force in November, have been active in western Mosul around Islamic State’s supply lines coming from Syria, and had achieved a remarkable victory in November when they recaptured the Tal Afar military airport.

The force has recently been fighting off IS attacks near Tal Afar.

PMUs’ possible involvement in Tal Afar battles has been surrounded with confusion. The Iraqi government had assured the force would not partake in liberating the town as Sunni powers, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had warned that its engagement within the mostly-Sunni region could have sectarian twists.

Al-Hashd has faced accusations by international rights organizations of sectarian-based abuses against Sunni residents of areas recaptured from IS.

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