Iraq launches operation to regain control of western Mosul

Baghdad, Feb 19: Iraq has launched an operation to regain control of western Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) terror group, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Sunday.

al-Abadi described the operation, which comes after Iraq recaptured eastern Mosul, a "new dawn" in the liberation of the last IS stronghold in the country, CNN reported. 

"Go forward with my blessing, heroic forces of Iraq," he said on state television.

The Iraqi air force dropped millions of leaflets over western Mosul late Saturday, warning residents of an offensive by ground forces on the IS-held part of the city. 

The leaflets say Iraqi forces are making advancements to the western side and "provide guidance and recommendations" for citizens ahead of the offensive.

The leaflets also warn IS members to turn in their weapons and surrender "before they face their inevitable fate at the hands of our heroic forces".

The area has been targeted only by airstrikes in the past.

Iraqi forces have had control of the eastern part of the city, which is divided by the Tigris River, since January.

According to the UN, as many as 800,000 civilians live in western Mosul.

The offensive to retake Mosul began in October with a push by the Iraqi army, counter-terrorism forces, federal police and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

The IS seized Mosul in 2014.