Kurdish fighters seize town near Mosul from Islamic State
US coalition forces continue their offensive against last Isis stronghold in Iraq
An American official said Masoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdish region, had told US defence secretary Ash Carter that the Kurds had succeeded in liberating Bashiqa from Islamic State.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters told reporters at the scene that they had entered Bashiqa.
Journalists were not being allowed into the town, which lies 12km to the northeast of Mosul.
Reuters television footage from Nawran, a town near Bashiqa, showed Kurdish fighters using a heavy mortar, a machine gun and small arms as smoke rose over the area around Bashiqa.
The Peshmerga are also said to be using tanks, rocket launchers and snipers.
A Reuters photographer saw the fighters destroy at least three suicide car bombs dispatched against their forces.
The offensive to capture Mosul from Islamic State, which started on Monday, is backed by a US-led coalition.
It is expected to become the biggest battle in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Coalition forces have advanced to within 5km of Mosul at the closest point, the interior minister of the Kurdish regional government has said.
An Iraqi force of about 30,000, joined by US special forces and under American, French and British air cover, is ready to push into Mosul after recapturing the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and seizing the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit in central Iraq.
Islamic State have staged attacks apparently aimed at distracting the advancing forces.
The group hit the city of Kirkuk on Friday and on Sunday they attacked Rutba, a town 360km west of Baghdad, where they killed at least seven policemen, according to a police source.
The town’s mayor, Imad al-Dulaimi, said the insurgents attacked during the night and gained entry to the town by co-ordinating with sleeper cells there.
About 30 insurgents skirmished with tribal fighters and security forces in the town before vanishing.
In an attempt to repel the offensive against Mosul, Islamic State also set fire to a sulphur plant near the city.
Up to 1,000 people were treated in hospital after inhaling toxic fumes from the fire.
Coalition officials have said the offensive to recapture Mosul, which has a civilian population of 1.5 million, is going well, but that it will take a long time.
Between 4,000 and 8,000 Islamic State fighters in the city have rigged it with explosives, built oil-filled moats, dug tunnels and trenches and are feared to be ready to use civilians as human shields.
Mr Carter sounded optimistic about the campaign to take Mosul during a trip to Erbil, as he praised the Kurdish region’s Peshmerga fighters.
“I’m here to commend you and your forces. I’m encouraged by what I see,” Mr Carter told Barzani during talks.
Peshmerga spokesman Halgord Hekmet told reporters that 25 Kurdish fighters had been killed so far.
Mr Carter lamented Kurdish casualties but extolled the region’s forces as “exceptionally capable and essential”.
During the meeting, Barzani said the Mosul operation had started successfully and had made good progress over the past three days.
He thanked the US and the coalition for their support.
“I know you’re going back to the front now. Please be safe. We appreciate your friendship,” Mr Carter told Barzani as he departed.