Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi says his country’s forces have begun the offensive to recapture the city of Tal Afar, one of the final areas held by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
Abadi early on August 20 said in a televised speech that "the start of an operation to free Tal Afar" had commenced.
"I am saying to Daesh that there's no choice other than to leave or be killed," he added, using an alternative name for IS. "You either surrender or die."
On August 18, senior U.S. military leaders said the Iraqi forces were preparing to launch the drive on Tal Afar after completing the bloody nine-month battle to force IS from the major northern city of Mosul.
An estimated 1,400 troops Iraqi were killed and 7,000 wounded in the battle to liberate Mosul, which had been under IS control since the militants captured wide swathes of territory from government forces in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters that "the last days of Mosul looked like Iwo Jima to me," referring to a bloody World War II battle in the Pacific.
But he said Iraqi government forces would be “ready enough" when they began their campaign against Tal Afar.
Tal Afar, about 80 kilometers from Mosul and 150 kilometers from the Syrian border, represents one of the last pockets of territory held in the country by IS fighters.
Iraqi officials said there are between 1,400 and 1,600 IS militants in the Tal Afar area, many of whom are foreign fighters.
Iraqi Brigadier General Yahia Rasool said Tal Afar has largely been encircled and cut off by Iraqi government troops and Shi'ite volunteers in the south and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the north.
"I don't think it will be tougher than the battle of Mosul, taking into consideration the experience we got in Mosul," he said.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said on August 19 that thousands of people were fleeing toward the Kurdish-held region in the northern part of the country ahead of the latest offensive.
IS fighters still control Hawija, in Kirkuk Province, 300 kilometers north of Baghdad, and areas in western Anbar Province.