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Iraq begins battle to retake Tal Afar, IS bastion near Mosul: PM

© AFP/File | Iraqi government forces advance towards Tal Afar on June 9, 2017, during ongoing battles to retake the city from the Islamic State (IS) group fighters

BAGHDAD (AFP) - 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced early Sunday the start of a battle to retake Tal Afar, a key Northern Iraqi bastion of the Islamic State (IS) group.

In a televised speech, al-Abadi, dressed in military uniform and standing in front of an Iraqi flag and map of the country, announced "the start of an operation to free Tal Afar".

"I am saying to Daesh that there's no choice other than to leave or be killed," he added, using an alternative name for IS.

Tal Afar is located 70 kilometres (43 miles) west of Mosul, Iraq's second city where US-backed government forces ended jihadist rule in July after a months-long battle.

In June 2014, IS jihadists overran Tal Afar, a Shiite enclave in the predominantly Sunni province of Nineveh, on the road between Mosul and Syria. It is one of the last remaining IS strongholds in Northern Iraq.

Al-Abadi said that Iraq's paramilitary Hashed al-Shaabi forces would help various army, police and counter-terrorism units in Tal Afar.

The umbrella organisation, which is dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, has already been fighting to retake a number of other Iraqi cities from the Islamic State.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since regained much of the territory.

Jihadists still hold Hawija, in the province of Kirkuk, 300 kilometres north of Baghdad, and areas in Anbar, a western province that faces major security challenges.

© 2017 AFP