Iraqi troops on Saturday launched an offensive to seize the Christian town of Qaraqosh near Mosul from the Islamic State group, Reuters reported. The operation is part of the country's mission to retake Mosul from the extremist group, which if successful would deal a lasting blow to its influence in the region.

Residents of Qaraqosh, located 20 km southeast of Mosul, fled in 2014 after the Islamic State group took control of it. Earlier this week, government forces captured Bartella, a Christian village north of Qaraqosh. At least 20 such villages on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, have been secured since the operation began on Monday.

While the Iraqi Army is trying to advance on Mosul from the south, Kurdish militias are making their way towards the city from the east and north. The forces have the backing of a United States-led coalition. More than 5,000 soldiers from the US have been deployed in a supportive capacity for the campaign to retake Mosul, the Islamic State's last stronghold in the country.

Moreover, the toll in the Islamic State attack in Kirkuk city – located some 170 km from Mosul – has risen to more than 35. The group launched the strike on Friday in an apparent move to distract Iraqi forces from their operation to retake Mosul. Militants targeted the oil-producing region, located between Baghdad and Mosul, with assault rifles and explosives. They attacked police stations and stormed into a power plant to the north of Kirkuk, where some of them blew themselves up.