Iraqi Kurdish forces advance, mass grave found


Associated Press

NEAR BASHIQA, Iraq

Iraqi Kurdish fighters exchanged heavy fire with militants Monday as they entered a town held by the Islamic State group east of Mosul, while troops advancing south of the city discovered a mass grave containing some 100 decapitated bodies.

The offensive to reclaim the town of Bashiqa is part of the broader push to drive IS out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, relieving those living under its occupation from the type of brutality, such as mass killings, that the group has committed.

IS militants have carried out a series of massacres since seizing large swaths of southern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014, often documenting them with photos and videos circulated online. On Monday, Iraqi soldiers advancing into the town of Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul, discovered a pit containing dozens of decapitated skeletal remains, the military’s Joint Military Command said.

The offensive to retake Bashiqa began at dawn with a Kurdish barrage of heavy artillery, Katyusha rockets and mortar rounds slamming into IS positions, providing cover for the advance of armored columns.

Smoke rose from the town throughout the day, with large explosions sending dark clouds into the sky.

Bashiqa, which is believed to be largely deserted except for dozens of IS fighters, is about eight miles northeast of Mosul’s outskirts and about 13 miles from the city center. Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition and joined by government-sanctioned militias, are fighting to drive IS out of those surrounding areas and open additional fronts to attack Mosul itself.

In neighboring Syria, meanwhile, Kurdish-led Syrian fighters pushed ahead with an offensive aimed at isolating and encircling the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, making small advances in villages to the north of the city. U.S.-led coalition warplanes provided air cover for the long-awaited campaign to liberate the city.

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