- Associated Press - Thursday, September 22, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraqi forces on Thursday pushed deeper into a key Islamic State-held town north of Baghdad days after launching an operation to retake it, the military said.

The statement from the Joint Military Operation Command said the Iraqi flag was hoisted on Thursday morning over the mayor’s office and the main hospital complex in the town of Shirqat. The statement added that Iraqi forces were pushing forward to the city center.

The head of the Salahuddin provincial council, Ahmed al-Karim, said that government forces control up 70 percent of the town. Al-Karim added that fighting was still raging in other parts of the town, and that he expected it to be fully liberated “in the coming hours of tomorrow.”

Shirqat, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, was among the first areas to fall into IS hands during the militants’ June 2014 blitz.

Backed by paramilitary troops, mostly Shiite militiamen, and aerial support from the U.S.-led international coalition, government forces launched the Shirqat operation on Tuesday. The town lies near the city of Mosul, which is the IS group’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is located about 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad. While the Syrian city of Raqqa is considered the de facto capital of the Islamic State group’s self-declared caliphate, Mosul is the largest city under its control.

Iraqi government is now gearing up for a major offensive to retake Mosul from IS. It pledged to recapture the city this year.

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