Islamic State counter-attacks as Iraqi forces prepare for Mosul offensive
The Iraqi army is moving troops around Mosul ahead of an expected push to retake its western half from the Islamic State group in a decisive battle for the city, a commander has said.
"We are preparing ... to launch a big operation in order to liberate the rest of Mosul," said Brigadier Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the Iraqi Army's 9th Division.
On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of armoured vehicle and troops could be seen moving around the city. Brig Khalifa said the manoeuvres began on Sunday.
But even as the Iraqi forces were moving into place, IS launched a significant counter-attack near the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, on Sunday night.
Militants detonated 17 car bombs, targeting a position held by Iraq's government-sanctioned, mostly Shiite, militia forces known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces near Tal Afar, said Jaafar al-Hussaini, a spokesman for one of the militias.
The attack lasted nine hours and killed four militiamen and 48 IS fighters before it was repelled Mr al-Hussaini said.
Mosul's east was declared "fully liberated" in January, over three months after Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake the city.
At the beginning of the offensive, Iraqi forces made swift gains, but slow and gruelling urban combat followed before all of eastern Mosul was liberated.
Iraqi and coalition officials are warning that the fight for the west - a densely populated urban area - is likely to be more difficult.
The United Nations has said civilian casualty rates remain high in eastern Mosul as IS mortar attacks from the western side of the Tigris River - which divides the city into two - can still reach neighbourhoods in the east.