Shia paramilitaries have captured the northwestern Iraqi town of Baaj from Daesh, further shrinking the northern region under the militants' control as part of a US-backed campaign to retake the city of Mosul, the Iraqi military said on Sunday.
Eight months into the Mosul offensive, Daesh militants have been dislodged from all of the city except an enclave along the western bank of the Tigris river.
Daesh's grip on the Iraqi side of the northern region along the border with Syria, a desert area where Iraqi and US sources believe Daesh leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is hiding, has been ebbing as forces fighting on the side of Iraq's government have advanced.
The Iraqi air force provided cover for the Shia paramilitaries known as Popular Mobilisation, a statement from the Iraqi joint operations command said.
Popular Mobilisation is steered by neighbouring Shia regional power Iran, an adversary of the United States, but is playing a part in the campaign to defeat Daesh - an enemy of both - in Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh. Baaj is located in Nineveh.
Iraqi government armed forces are focusing their effort on dislodging insurgents from remaining pockets in Mosul. The city has been Daesh's de facto capital in Iraq since 2014.
Iran's fight against Daesh
While reporting nominally to Iraq's Shia-led government, Popular Mobilisation has Iranian military advisers, one of whom died last month fighting near Baaj.
Securing border territory between Iraq and Syria is important for Iran to reopen a land route to supply Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad's army with weapons in his protracted war with rebels and militants.
A statement published by the Mobilisation announcing the capture of Baaj came from Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a prominent leader of the paramilitary with longstanding ties to Iran.
Iran has helped to train and organise thousands of Shia militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in Syria's war. Fighters from Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah are also working closely with Iranian military commanders in Syria.
US and Iraqi officials believe Daesh leader Baghdadi has left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight on in Mosul and is now focusing on his own survival.
Mosul in the past 24 hours
At least 32 Iraqi soldiers were killed in Daesh attacks in western Mosul in the past 24 hours, according to an Iraqi police officer.
Three bombers attacked army positions in Al Shifa district, northwest of Mosul, killing 12 soldiers and injuring four others, Lieutenant Ali al Karbalai with the Rapid Response Forces told Anadolu Agency on Sunday.
Thirteen soldiers were also killed in a spate of car bombings in Zanjili district, west of Mosul, he said.
“Two soldiers were also seriously injured in the bombings,” he said, adding that 11 military vehicles were destroyed in the attacks.
Karbalai said a bomber drove his explosives-laden vehicle into sites of federal police forces in Bab Sinjar area, killing seven soldiers and injuring four others.
Iraq has been roiled by violence since Daesh seized vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq in 2014.