Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of military operations to liberate the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants early Monday, launching the country on its toughest battle since American troops left nearly five years ago.
State TV showed a brief written statement in the early hours Monday announcing the start of the widely anticipated military offensive to drive ISIS out of Iraq’s second largest city.
Broadcasts showed the prime minister, dressed in a military uniform, speaking while flanked by senior officers. State TV broadcast patriotic music within minutes of the announcement.
The thuds of sporadic artillery shelling rumbled across the rolling Nineveh plains in the direction of Mosul, witnesses said.
The push to retake Mosul will be the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, the strongest blow yet to ISIS.
Iraqi forces have been massing around the city in recent days. They include members of the elite special forces, who are expected to lead the charge into the city itself.
Mosul is home to more than a million civilians.
The Agence France-Presse news agency (AFP) reports, “The UN deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief voiced grave concern Sunday as operations to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul began.”
AFP quotes Stephen O’Brien as saying, “I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted by military operations to retake the city from ISIL.”
According to AFP, O’Brien warned that “families are at extreme risk of being caught in cross-fire or targeted by snipers.”
Mosul fell to ISIS fighters during a lightning charge in June 2014 that left nearly a third of Iraq in militants’ hands and plunged the country into its most severe crisis since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.