Khazer (Iraq): Iraqi and Kurdish forces advanced on a town near Mosul on Sunday as part of an operation to retake the northern city from the Islamic State group, which staged an assault in western Iraq that appeared to be another diversionary attack.
The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, said they "cordoned off" eight villages northeast of Mosul and are now less than 9 kilometers (5 ½ miles) from its outskirts. They said the cordoned off area measures around 100 square kilometers (38 square miles), and that they also secured a "significant stretch" of highway.
The statement said eight car bombs were destroyed in the operation, including three by US-led coalition aircraft, and "dozens" of militants were killed.
Those gains came after Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched an offensive against the nearby town of Bashiqa. Maj. Gen. Haider Fadhil, of Iraq's special forces, said they had also taken part in the operation, and that the town was surrounded.
Over the last week, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have been battling IS in a belt of mostly uninhabited towns and villages around Mosul, contending with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs.
In western Iraq, IS militants stormed into the town of Rutba, unleashing three suicide car bombs that were blown up before hitting their targets, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.
He said some militants were killed, without giving an exact figure, and declined to say whether any civilians or Iraqi forces were killed. He said the militants did not seize any government buildings and that the situation "is under control."
The IS-run Aamaq news agency had earlier said militants stormed Rutba from several directions.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, confirmed there had been a complex attack in Rutba and said he expects more such attacks as the militants try to divert attention from Mosul.
IS carried out a large assault on the northern city of Kirkuk on Friday, in which more than 50 militants stormed government compounds and other targets, setting off more than 24 hours of heavy fighting and killing at least 80 people, mainly security forces.
The Mosul offensive involves more than 25,000 Iraqi ground forces as well as U.S.-led coalition aircraft and advisers. It is expected to take weeks, if not months, to drive IS from Mosul, which is home to more than a million civilians.
Bashiqa is close to a military base of the same name where some 500 Turkish troops are training Sunni and Kurdish fighters for the Mosul offensive.