Watch Iraqis Drift Through Mosul to Bedevil ISIS

Before the launch, Abadi said, "We announce the start of a new phase in the operation, we are coming to Nineveh to liberate the western side of Mosul".

"Federal police units secured the road leading to the airport after expelling Daesh militants from the area", he said.

But Isis have an advantage in the districts of western Mosul, where streets and alleys are too narrow for the Iraqi army to take tanks and humvees and booby traps - a key tactic of the jihadi group in other battles - are easier to hide.

Earlier, pro-government fighters from Popular Mobilization Units, better known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha'abi, had established complete control over Burnt Hills near Bakhirah village in the western suburb of Mosul.

The leaflets say Iraqi forces are already making advancements and are "providing guidance and recommendations" for citizens ahead of the offensive.

Federal police forces reached the Aqrab checkpoint on the highway from Baghdad, a spot that marks the southern entrance to Mosul and from which the city is clearly visible.

The Iraqi forces said they had seized 17 villages from ISIL on Sunday, according to top army commander Abdulamir Yarallah.

The offensive to retake Mosul's west bank has been one of the Iraqi force's toughest challenges.

Concern has been voiced by the United Nations about the welfare of civilians trapped in Mosul, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000.

The western side of Mosul remains under IS control, but Iraqi forces are poised to launch an assault, the Defense Ministry said on February 18 in the leaflets and on public media.

The commander of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group said Monday he expected its forces would be allowed to stay in Iraq after Mosul is recaptured.

To date, the coalition has conducted more than 10,000 air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq. The IS reportedly had about 6,000 troops in Mosul before the push began, at least 1,000 of which were killed during the last offensive.

As shown in the three-month campaign to drive Isil from eastern Mosul, the violence won't necessarily end when the group is defeated.

Islamic State imposed a radical version of Islam in Mosul, banning cigarettes, televisions and radios, and forcing men to grow beards and women to cover from head to toe. The U.N. estimates that 750,000 civilians may be left in western Mosul.

"We are racing against the clock to prepare emergency sites south of Mosul to receive displaced families", Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said in a statement.

  • Carolyn Briggs