Mosul: Iraqi forces piled pressure on the Islamic State group around Mosul today, moving closer to cutting off the jihadists' escape route west to Syria and thrusting deeper into the east of the city.
Pro-government paramilitaries advancing on the town of Tal Afar, which commands the city's west approaches, entered its airport, while troops moving up from the south had the Mosul airport in their sights.
Wounded civilians continued to stream out of the east of Mosul as government forces battled IS fighters on the streets.
The first casualties began arriving at a field clinic on the city's eastern edge after a mortar attack at around 11:00 am (local time), filling its nine blood-stained cots within minutes.
Others were forced to sit on plastic chairs or lie on rugs in the dirt awaiting treatment.
Mortar fire and bombs killed three children and wounded more than two dozen people on today morning alone, one of the clinic's staff, Hossam al-Nuri, told AFP.
Medics zipped a white body bag around one of the dead, as a relative sobbed nearby.
"We were waiting at home in Al-Samah to have lunch when the mortar round hit," said Hassan, who was wounded along with three of his brothers.
Lying on his side on a cot, Hassan frantically asked passing medics about his infant son Jassem, who was being treated nearby for wounds to his eyes.
Iraqi forces and civilians alike have paid a heavy price in the first month of the battle for Mosul, although casualty figures have not been released by the authorities.
Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries allied to the government were battling IS fighters and looking for booby traps inside Tal Afar airport, the last major objective before the town itself.
"Daesh has planted bombs in large parts of Tal Afar airport and operations are under way to clear it completely," the Hashed al-Shaabi said in a statement.
Control of Tal Afar, some 50 kilometres from Mosul, would bring pro-government forces closer to surrounding IS in its last major Iraqi stronghold.
The city would be cut off from IS-controlled territory in Syria, where its de facto capital Raqa is also in the sights of US-backed forces.
South of Mosul, advancing troops were nearing the city's airport.
An officer with elite interior ministry forces said a planned advance today would bring them to within four kilometres.
Anti-IS fighters were also within striking distance of Mosul's northern neighbourhoods while in the east elite counter-terrorism forces and army troops punching in from two directions were expected to join up despite stiff resistance.