BAGHDAD, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- The paramilitary units of Hashd Shaabi launched a large-scale operation against the Islamic State (IS) group in the west of Iraqi's Mosul on Saturday, security sources said.
The predominantly Shiite groups advanced in the morning in three routes through the vast rugged land toward the town of Tal-Afar, some 70 km west of Mosul, the Hashd Shaabi's media office said in a statement.
Tal Afar, which used to have majority of both Sunni and Shiite Turkoman villagers, as well as other minorities of Kurds and Arabs, fell to IS in 2014.
During their advance toward Tal Afar, the paramilitary units backed by Iraqi aircraft recaptured many villages scattered in the open land in southwest of Mosul, including the villages of Wadi al-Ayn, al-Msaara and Msherfa within the ancient ruin site of Hatra, according to the statement.
It said the Hashd Shaabi units fought sporadic clashes with IS militants in the villages, destroying four booby-trapped vehicles and killed at least three suicide bombers, while dozens of IS suspects were detained for interrogation.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi security forces and allied Hashd Shaabi units started in the morning to enter the IS-held town of Shoura, some 30 km south of Mosul, amid fierce clashes with the extremist militants inside the town, a source from the Operations Command of Nineveh Liberation told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
During the past few days, the troops were fighting to clear a cluster of villages around Shoura in order to impose siege on the IS militants in town, the source said.
On Oct. 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, announced the start of a major offensive to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city.
So far, the Iraqi security forces have inched to the eastern fringes of Mosul, and made progress on other routes around the city preparing for the major battle to storm the city and drive out the IS militants.
Mosul, some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled.