Baghdad: Iraqi forces have captured a key airbase from the Islamic State group that can serve as a launchpad for retaking the jihadist-held city of Mosul, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday.
The Qayyarah airbase in the Tigris valley 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Mosul would be "an important base for the liberation of Mosul," Abadi said in a statement.
He called for the people of Iraq`s northwestern Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, to "prepare for the liberation of their cities."
Iraq`s Joint Operations Command said two army divisions and members of the country`s counter-terrorism forces took the base with air support from a US-led international coalition.
Security sources said jihadists had 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 IS fighters.
No further details were immediately available on the scale of fighting for the base.
At the end of last month, Iraqi forces recaptured Fallujah, a city 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad, in a major setback for IS.