The involvement of Shia militias in the Mosul operation after they have been accused of abuses against civilians in Sunni-majority areas has raised concerns that sectarian tensions could worsen.
Iraqi Shia militias launched an offensive on Saturday towards the west of Mosul, the last stronghold of the Daesh terrorist organisation.
A spokesman for the Iranian-backed militia umbrella group known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) said that the aim of the operation was to clear Daesh strongholds in the area.
He said the militias aim to capture villages west of Mosul and reach the town of Tal Afar, about 55 km from the city, with the goal of preventing Daesh retreating into neighbouring Syria.
Iraqi Army and allied peshmerga forces – backed by a US-led coalition of countries carrying out air strikes and US military personnel – have been advancing in the last 13 days on the southern, eastern and northeastern fronts around Mosul.
But the involvement of Shia militias in the Mosul operation has raised concerns that sectarian tensions could be worsened, as these militias have previously been accused by rights groups of abuses against civilians in Sunni-majority areas.
Turkey has repeatedly warned about the risk of sectarian conflict breaking out if Shia militias are allowed to enter Sunni-majority Mosul.
The advance of Shia militias towards the town of Tal Afar, which is mainly home to ethnic Turks, has also alarmed Ankara.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday raised concerns over these developments, warning the militias against carrying out atrocities in Tal Afar.