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Shia militias open new front in battle for Mosul

Militia coalition, known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, had not yet played a heavy role in the fighting.

Mosul

Shia militias say they have launched an assault to the west of Mosul, opening up a new front in the battle to drive ISIL from the country's second city and the group's last major bastion in the country.

The coalition of militias, known as the Popular Mobilisation Units, had not played a heavy part in the fighting but the offensive on Saturday indicates a bigger role than many observers had anticipated.

The Mosul offensive involves tens of thousands of soldiers, federal police, Kurdish fighters, Sunni tribesmen and Shia militias.

Many of the militias - considered to be backed by Iran - were originally formed after the 2003 United States-led invasion to fight US forces as well as Sunni fighters. They were mobilised again, and endorsed by the government, when ISIL swept through northern and central Iraq in 2014, capturing Mosul and other key towns and cities.

Also on Saturday, Iraqi troops approaching the city from the south advanced into Shura, a town to the south of Mosul, after a wave of US-led air raids and artillery shelling against ISIL positions inside the town.

Commanders said most ISIL fighters withdrew earlier this week, allegedly with kidnapped civilians, but that US air raids had disrupted the forced march, allowing some civilians to escape.

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