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Shia militias say they will support Iraqi army offensive on Mosul

Iraqi army forces arrive in Hut village where we can see smoke rise from oil wells which were set on fire by Daesh terrorists. [Feriq Fereç/Anadolu Agency]
Iraqi army forces arrive in Hut village where we can see smoke rise from oil wells which were set on fire by Daesh terrorists. [Feriq Fereç/Anadolu Agency]

A Shia paramilitary force said it would support the Iraqi army's offensive on Mosul, Daesh's last major stronghold in Iraq, raising the risk of sectarian strife in the mainly Sunni region.

The Popular Mobilisation Force (PMF) said late yesterday that it would back Iraqi government forces advancing toward Tal Afar, about 55 kilometres west of Mosul.

Taking Tal Afar would effectively cut off the escape route for militants wanting to head into neighbouring Syria and would please the Iran-backed army of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. It has accused the US-led anti-Daesh coalition of planning to allow the jihadists such a safe passage.

But it could also hamper the escape of civilians from the area of Mosul, which is Iraq's second biggest city and where the militants are reportedly trying to use residents as human shields.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said yesterday that blocking the road to Syria was the responsibility of the coalition that is providing air and ground support to Iraqi and Kurdish troops engaged in the battle.

Tal Afar's pre-war population of about 150,000 to 200,000 was a mix of Sunni and Shia ethnic Turkmens until Shia member of the community fled the town after Daesh took over the region in 2014, declaring a 'caliphate' over swathes of Iraq and Syria.

"The Iranians and the [PMF] plan to take Tal Afar because of the Shia significance and use that as a way to angle in to Mosul," said a senior Iraqi official who asked not to be named. "But they also want to use it as a way to angle into the Syria fight."

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