The Iraqi military has launched an operation to retake a northern town from Islamic State (IS) fighters ahead of preparations to begin an offensive on IS-held Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.
The Iraqi Army and tribal-led forces on September 20 pushed toward Shirqat, in Saladin Province, 260 kilometers northwest of Baghdad.
Shirqat has been held by IS forces since mid-2014 when the Islamist group swept over much of north and western Iraq.
Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes have been steadily retaking small towns and villages from IS fighters this year, including the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.
"The operation to liberate Shirqat started at 5:30 a.m. (local time) from several directions...with the support of coalition forces," Joint Operations Command spokesman Yahya Rasool said.
Colonel Muhammad al-Assadi, an Iraqi security spokesman, said Iraqi troops have retaken villages around Shirqat and are about five kilometers from the town.
Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led operation against IS, said coalition forces had carried out 19 air strikes over the past two weeks to enable Iraqi forces to move on Shirqat.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has pledged to retake Mosul this year, and Iraqi commanders have said an attack on the city could take place in late October.
Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and Al-Jazeera