Iraq army seizes key airbase from IS south of Mosul

Iraqi PM tells the north-west province to prepare for liberation.

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Baghdad // Iraqi forces have captured a key airbase from ISIL group that can serve as a launchpad for retaking the city of Mosul from the extremist group, prime minister Haider Al Abadi said on Saturday.

He called for the people of Iraq’s north-western Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, to “prepare for the liberation of their cities”.

Two Iraqi army divisions and counter-terrorism forces took the Qayyarah airbase 60 kilometres south of Mosul with air support from a US-led international coalition, Iraq’s joint operations command said.

Security sources said extremist fighters fled towards Mosul after the base was taken.

An officer taking part in the operation said bomb disposal teams were removing booby traps and mines left behind by ISIL.

Iraqi forces’ advance towards Mosul follows the recapture last month of Fallujah, a city 50 kilometres west of Baghdad, in a major setback for the extremist group.

That focused attention on the battle to remove ISIL from the north-west of the country.

ISIL has also come under pressure in neighbouring Syria, with US-backed rebel forces and regime troops backed by Russian air power making separate advances on its strongholds in the north-east.

On Saturday, the extremists shot down a Syrian helicopter near the city of Palmyra, killing both Russian pilots.

Russia’s defence ministry said the pilots “had used up all their ammunition and were on their way back when they came under the fire of terrorists and crashed.”

Meanwhile, Syria’s military on Saturday extended its Eid ceasefire for another three days, even as pro-government forces advanced against rebels in the north.

The military had declared a nationwide ceasefire for Eid al-Fitr from July 6, expiring July 8 at midnight, but it had little impact on the ground, as pro-government forces choked off the last supply route to opposition areas in the contested city of Aleppo on Thursday.

Rebels responded with a rocket barrage on residential areas in the government side of the city on Friday night, killing 44, state media said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the toll at 38 dead, among them 14 children and 13 women. The Observatory said another nine people, including eight women and children, were killed in presumed Russian or Syrian government airstrikes and rocket attacks on the opposition-held side of the city.

* Agencies