The Latest: Iraq PM offers new details of assault on town

AP News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2016 1:32 PM
The Latest: Iraq PM offers new details of assault on town

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Latest on the developments in Iraq where an operation by Iraqi forces and their allies to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is no in its second week (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

Iraq's prime minister says Islamic State militants briefly seized the local government headquarters in the western town of Rutba earlier this week before security forces pushed them out and regained control of the town.

Haider al-Abadi's remarks during a Tuesday press conference offered new details about an assault in the remote town of Rutba, hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the offensive underway outside the northern city of Mosul.

Al-Abadi said the militants "took control, it's true, of the municipal headquarters," but that Iraqi security forces drove them out "within hours" and had regained control of the town.

Iraqi officials had previously downplayed the attack, which began on Sunday, insisting the situation was under control.

U.S. officials said the fighting in Rutba was still underway as of Tuesday afternoon, before al-Abadi spoke, with small pockets of IS fighters in two neighborhoods.

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7:30 p.m.

France's foreign minister says the ongoing Iraqi operation to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants will be won.

Jean-Marc Ayrault says the US-led coalition, which is supporting the Iraqi operation, should then turn its attention to Raqqa, the Syrian city which IS has declared as its capital and where militants will flee once Mosul falls.

Ayrault says coalition forces, in coordination with the United Nations, must take care to protect the civilian population of Mosul.

He says coalition forces should pursue IS fighters to Raqqa from where terrorist attacks against targets in the Middle East and Europe are planned.

"It's a difficult fight, but we will win," Ayrault said, adding: "We must definitely win the fight everywhere."

Ayrault was speaking Tuesday in Cyprus after talks with his Cypriot counterpart.

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6:40 p.m.

The Russian military is accusing the U.S.-led coalition of striking civilians in Mosul and nearby areas.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff said Tuesday that more than 60 civilians have been killed and 200 wounded in such strikes over the past three days.

Russia has welcomed the U.S.-backed Iraqi operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, but accused Washington and its allies of hitting civilians. The accusations come amid a bitter U.S.-Russia rift over Syria, where Russia has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Rudskoi said a U.S. jet struck a school for girls Friday in the southern part of Mosul, and air strikes targeted residential areas in several cities near Mosul over the weekend. He also said that 300 IS militants left Mosul for Syria.

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6:20 p.m.

The White House envoy to the coalition battling the Islamic State group says there has been "no diversion whatsoever" of Iraqi forces from the Mosul offensive after IS launched assaults in the northern city of Kirkuk and the western town of Rutba.

At a press conference in Baghdad on Tuesday, Brett McGurk sought to play down the attacks, saying they were carried out by "very small, isolated teams" and were "easily defeatable."

Dozens of IS militants attacked Kirkuk on Friday, setting off two days of clashes and killing at least 80 people, mostly Kurdish security forces. A similar attack was launched in Rutba on Sunday. McGurk said that attack is "failing," but that there is still a "small Daesh presence" in two southern neighborhoods, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

He said that "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."

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4:45 p.m.

France's president is calling on the U.S. and other allies fighting Islamic State extremists in Iraq to remain vigilant and share intelligence to prevent potential reprisals from the group.

Francois Hollande said Tuesday that "terrorists will hide" among columns of refugees who will leave the city of Mosul during the battle. He spoke at a meeting of defense ministers in Paris to discuss the situation in Mosul. "We must be able to identify them clearly," he said.

Hollande also warned against foreigners fighting in the ranks of IS who might want to return to their country, saying measures must be taken for them to be arrested and prevented from carrying out attacks.

The French president said the Paris meeting aims at preparing Mosul's future, and stressed the coalition members must help ensure the city's future authorities represent all ethnic and religious groups so that the "long-awaited peace will come."

The meeting in Paris on Tuesday included U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and counterparts from 12 other Western countries.

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4 p.m.

An officer with the Iraqi special forces says that dozens of families have been evacuated to a refugee camp from a newly liberated village near the Islamic State-held northern city of Mosul.

Maj. Gen. Haider Fadhil says that around 335 civilians left the village of Tob Zawa on Tuesday. The village is about 9 kilometers (5½ miles) from Mosul and was retaken on Monday from IS militants. Fadhil says the reason is to protect them from possible IS militants shelling.

The campaign to free Mosul comes after months of planning and involves more than 25,000 Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters and state-sanctioned Shiite militias. It is expected to take weeks, if not months, to drive IS out of Iraq's second largest city, which is still home to more than a million people.

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2 p.m.

Turkey's foreign minister says Ankara will consider all military options — "including ground operations" — if developments in Iraq deteriorate to the extent that they threaten Turkey's security.

The minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told private broadcaster "24 TV" on Tuesday that Turkey would use its international right to quell threats from the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants in Iraq.

He says that "if the threat against us" increases, "we will use our power ... to end the threat against us and that is our most natural right."

Cavusoglu in televised comments the day before said the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK is crossing into Turkey from Iraq and coordinating attacks.

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1:20 p.m.

The U.S.-led coalition says it has carried out several airstrikes near Mosul as part of a week-old operation to retake Iraq's second largest city from the Islamic State group.

Central Command said on Tuesday it carried out five airstrikes near Mosul the previous day, destroying 22 fighting positions, eight tunnels and nine vehicles, one of which was rigged with explosives.

The military says it also carried out a strike on Monday near Rutba, in far western Iraq, where Iraqi forces have been battling IS militants since Sunday. It says that strike destroyed 11 vehicles.

The U.S. is also providing ground support for the Mosul operation, with more than 100 American soldiers embedded with Iraqi units and hundreds more working in staging bases. A U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb last week.

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10 a.m.

Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, are battling Islamic State militants for a third day in a remote western town, hundreds of kilometers (miles) to the south of the operation to retake Mosul.

Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, says "fighting is ongoing in Rutba" on Tuesday and that the town is still contested.

He says the coalition strikes are supporting the Iraqi forces' "response efforts, including one against a Daesh convoy that was attempting to flee the area." Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the IS group.

The Iraqi military could not immediately be reached for comment.

IS launched a complex attack on Rutba on Sunday. Iraqi officials have said the situation is under control, but haven't provided details about the fighting or possible casualties.