- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) - The Latest on the conflict in Iraq (all times local):

3:40 p.m.

Iraqi commanders say their forces have pushed Islamic State militants out of a small town south of Mosul and are now 20 miles (35 kilometers) from the city center.

Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabori said on Thursday that Iraqi army forces retook the town of Staff al-Tut in the Tigris River valley the day before. He says local tribal and militia forces have been deployed to protect the gains while his troops regroup for their next push toward Iraq’s second largest city.

Iraqi special forces dug in east of Mosul say they are awaiting further progress on the southern front before pressing forward. They have pushed to within 5 1/2 miles (nine kilometers) of the city.

Iraqi commanders say IS militants south of Mosul have been withdrawing north toward the city, taking hundreds of civilians with them to use as human shields.

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3:20 p.m.

An Iraqi Shiite leader says that the government is cooperating more closely with the northern Kurdish region than ever before as Iraqi and Kurdish forces battle the Islamic State group to free IS-held city of Mosul.

Ammar al-Hakim says he hopes it will lead to progress on issues that have long divided them.

Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region has allowed federal forces to operate on its territory for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. But the two sides remain divided over the boundaries of the Kurdish region and the sharing of Iraq’s oil wealth.

Al-Hakim, who leads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s parliament, told reporters at a joint press conference on Thursday with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani that “there’s no doubt that this great security and military cooperation will be an important beginning and a window to address all the pending issues.”

Al-Hakim says “the liberation of Mosul will be the beginning of a new Iraqi reality, with more cooperation.”

They spoke at a staging area in the Khazer region, east of Mosul.

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2:10 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that Turkey’s military could pursue Kurdish rebels across the border into northern Iraq’s Sinjar region.

In a speech delivered on Thursday, Erdogan said the Sinjar region is fast becoming a base for the leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, similar to northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains where the group’s commanders long maintained their headquarters.

Turkey’s air force regularly carries out raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq, especially in Qandil.

Erdogan said: “We will maintain this struggle in Sinjar. Why? Because Sinjar is becoming a new Qandil. … We cannot permit Sinjar, because the PKK is there.”

Violence between the Turkish security forces and the PKK flared last year following the collapse of a fragile peace process.

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1:30 p.m.

Iraq’s special forces say they have completed their objectives east of Mosul and are waiting on other forces to advance before pushing closer to the Islamic State-held city.

Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil said Thursday that his forces were waiting for other fighting units to push up from the south in order to further isolate Mosul before they enter the city. He says “the operation has not been stopped and is proceeding as planned.”

Iraqi forces have been battling IS militants around the town of Shura, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Mosul, in recent days. Iraqi officials have said the offensive is proceeding according to plan and that some operations are ahead of schedule.

The push to retake Iraq’s second largest city from the militants, which began on Oct. 17, is the largest operation launched by Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

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12:30 p.m.

The U.N.’s public health agency says it has trained 90 Iraqi medics in “mass casualty management” as part of its preparations for the Mosul offensive, with a special focus on responding to chemical attacks.

The Islamic State group, which has ruled Iraq’s second largest city for more than two years, is believed to have crude chemical weapon capabilities.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that of the 700,000 people expected to flee Mosul, some 200,000 will require emergency health services, including more than 90,000 children needing vaccinations and 8,000 pregnant women.

The operation to retake Mosul began Oct. 17 and is expected to take weeks, if not months. The International Organization for Migration says around 9,000 people have fled. The fighting has not yet reached the city itself, which is home to more than a million people.

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11:45 a.m.

The United Nations’ refugee agency is shipping tents, blankets and other aid from the United Arab Emirates to northern Iraq to help those affected by the military campaign to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group.

The UNHCR shipment, leaving Dubai’s International Humanitarian City on Thursday, is expected to reach those affected as soon as Friday.

Soliman Mohamed Daud, a senior UNHCR supply officer, told The Associated Press that 7,000 units of the relief aid will be sent to northern Iraq. The UAE shipment leaving Thursday includes some 1,500 kits.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. advisers and airstrikes, began the operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city earlier this month.

Aid groups fear that a mass exodus from Mosul could overwhelm camps set up around its outskirts.

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