Iraqi government forces have launched a campaign to retake Mosul, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Iraq. Up to 1.5 million civilians remain in the city, according to the United Nations, amid fears that the vastly outnumbered ISIL fighters could use them as human shields as they seek to repel the assault on its last major stronghold in the country.
Why is Mosul important?
Mosul is Iraq's second largest city and the last urban centre still under ISIL control in Iraq after a series of government offensives to reverse the group's seizure of territory in 2014. This is a very complicated operation, simply because of the mix of forces that are taking part. There is the central government in Baghdad, the Iraqi forces, Iraqi counterterrorism units and there is also the Kurdish Peshmerga who are allied in this fight but who do have a lot of differences.
"The hour has come and the moment of great victory is near," Haider al-Abadi, Iraq's prime minister, said early on Monday in a speech broadcast on state TV, surrounded by the armed forces' top commanders. The bid to retake Mosul comes after the military, backed by armed tribes, militias and US-led coalition air strikes, regained much of the territory the fighters seized in 2014 and 2015. "We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation," Brett McGurk, US envoy to the coalition against ISIL, said on Twitter at the start of the Mosul offensive. Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Khazir, just east of Mosul, said preparations for the offensive had long been under way, with forces amassing around the ISIL-held city's outskirts.