Iraq coalition insists remote fighting not diverting from Mosul operation
Iraqi forces battled Islamic State (IS) militants for a third day on Tuesday in a remote town far from the Mosul offensive but the US-led coalition insists the militants have not succeeded in diverting resources from the fight to retake Iraq's second largest city.
The assault in Rutba, hundreds of miles to the south of Mosul in the western Anbar province, is the latest in a series of what US officials are calling "spoiler attacks" aimed at stretching Iraqi forces.
The White House envoy to the coalition battling IS insisted the militants' strategy was failing, saying there had been "no diversion whatsoever" of forces taking part in the Mosul operation, which is expected to take weeks, if not months.
"Iraqi security forces, the local people of Rutba, are taking back their town. So this was expected, it's planned for and we can expect more of it," Brett McGurk said.
IS launched an attack on Rutba on Sunday, almost a week into the operation in Mosul, and on Tuesday Iraq's Prime Minister acknowledged they had briefly seized local government headquarters.
Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi security forces drove them out "within hours" and had regained control of the town.
Last week, the group launched a similar assault in and around the northern city of Kirkuk, some 100 miles south-east of Mosul, igniting gun battles that lasted two days and killed at least 80 people.
Mr McGurk downplayed the attacks, which he said were carried out by "small, isolated teams" and were "easily defeatable".
The Iraqi military has insisted throughout the Rutba assault that the situation is under control without offering further details.
Rajeh Barakat, an Anbar provincial councilman who sits on the security committee, said earlier on Tuesday that IS fighters were still clashing with security forces in two southern areas of Rutba.
Near Mosul, the fighting was still under way on Tuesday in a belt of villages and towns to the north, east and south of the city.
Major General Haider Fadhil said the Iraqi special forces had reached a village located four miles from the eastern edge of Mosul.
The IS-run Aamaq news agency released a video dated Monday purporting to show a missile attack on an Iraqi Abrams tank near Qayara, to the south of Mosul.
The video showed what appeared to be a shoulder-fired missile hurtling toward the parked brown tank from behind at fairly close range, blowing it up and igniting a massive fireball.
Around 335 civilians were evacuated to a refugee camp from the village of Tob Zawa, about five miles from Mosul, which was retaken by special forces on Monday, Mr Fadhil said. He said the civilians were relocated to protect them from possible IS shelling.