Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Sept. 20 the start of an operation to recapture Shirqat from the Islamic State — an important step toward retaking Mosul. Shirqat is a Sunni town and district in northern Salahuddin province that is strategically located at a juncture on the road to Mosul connecting Nineveh, Salahuddin and Kirkuk provinces. The town fell to the Islamic State in 2014 during the group’s broader sweep of Iraqi towns and cities, but the Iraqi army made some progress toward recapturing Shirqat last June, when it seized the surrounding villages of Albu Amira and Ein Bayza.
Shirqat lies on the critical land corridor between Baghdad and Qayyarah, a town with an air base that the U.S.-backed coalition will use as a site for logistics operations and as a forward operating base for the fight for Mosul. The offensive is part of a wider operation to push the Islamic State out of Iraq entirely. Recapturing Shirqat will make it easier for the Iraqi army to seize or contain the Hawija pocket, another area on the road to Mosul, by completely isolating it from the rest of the Islamic State and by solidifying the army and coalition's presence south of Mosul.
The operation is being conducted by the Iraqi military, Shiite militias, Popular Mobilization Forces and federal police. The Iraqi military component comprises the ninth and 16th divisions, as well as three battalions of counterterrorism forces. Shirqat Mayor Ali Aldodh announced that Iraqi security forces now control 50 percent of the city center and expect to take full control of the town within 12 hours. Iraqi security forces encountered little resistance from Islamic State militants through most of the operation, although there were some counterattacks in Talul Baj, in the province's southwest.
Iraqi commanders say the operation to retake Mosul will begin in October. Arbil, Baghdad, the United States and its coalition partners have been closely coordinating with one another in the lead-up to the operation, as have other actors with stakes in the battle, including Iran and Turkey.