The Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and tribal fighters, have ousted the Islamic State group from the northern town of Qayyarah near Mosul. The town, located on the banks of the Tigris River, is considered strategic for any future offensive against Isis' last stronghold of Mosul.
"We control all parts of the town and managed, in very limited time, to root out Daesh (Isis)," Lieutenant General Riyadh Jalal Tawfik, commander of Iraq's ground forces, told reporters in Qayyarah on Thursday. He added that engineering units were now clearing the area of unexploded ordnance and booby traps.
The three-day operation to retake Qayyarah, launched on Tuesday, was led by Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service, Al Jazeera reported.
"Qayyarah tribes also played a major role in liberating the town through cooperating with security forces and offering them intelligence about Daesh," Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi, the commander of the anti-terrorism agency, was quoted by the broadcaster as saying. He added that Iraqi forces had killed around 250 Isis fighters, including leaders of different nationalities, in the conflict.
"Our heroic forces achieved a big victory, an important step towards the liberation of Mosul. I present my congratulations to the Iraqi people for the liberation of the strategic town of Qayyarah and neighbouring areas," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement. He added that the victory was an important step towards retaking the terrorist group's stronghold, Mosul.
Qayyarah might be used as a launch pad for an assault on Mosul in the near future.
Meanwhile, around 15 civilians, including 11 children and four women, were killed in a barrel bomb attack by government forces on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Bab al-Nairab in the Syrian city of Aleppo, Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitor said on Thursday.
SOHR also said that eight civilians, including two children, died in rebel fire in the west of Aleppo on Thursday. The western side of the city is under government control.
A man was seen carrying a lifeless body of an infant no bigger than his forearm, according to AFP. His body was covered with dust and blood. A civil defence worker was seen protecting the face of a dead child while colleagues removed the rubble from the little body.
The Syrian government has been accused of using barrel bombs on rebel-held areas that are also home to civilians. But President Bashar al-Assad's government has consistently denied its usage.