Thousands advance toward IS extremists; Baghdad bombed heavily


IRBIL, Iraq

Thousands of fighters flocked to join Iraq's state-sanctioned, Iran-backed Shiite militias on Sunday, advancing to cut off Islamic State extremists holed up near Mosul in northern Iraq while bombers killed at least 17 people in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad.

Militia spokesmen said that some 5,000 fighters had joined their push to encircle from the west the country's second-largest city of Mosul, the IS militants' last bastion in Iraq, which is linked by road to territory it holds in Syria.

Karim al-Nuri of the militias' umbrella group, known as the Popular Mobilization Units, and Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for unit member the Hezbollah Brigades, said that a total of some 15,000 Shiite fighters were now participating in the battle.

The Iraqi military confirmed the figures, which, including army units, militarized police, special forces and Kurdish fighters would bring the total number of anti-IS forces in the offensive to over 40,000.

The two-week-old offensive to drive IS from Mosul had been long-anticipated, since the Sunni extremists stormed into the city in 2014 and drove out a much larger Iraqi force, albeit one that was demoralized from neglect and corruption.

Troops are now converging on the city from all directions, although most fighting is still taking place in towns and villages on Mosul's outskirts. The operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.

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