BAGHDAD, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- The Iraqi forces killed 66 Islamic State (IS) militants, including suicide bombers, in a mountainous area west of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
The troops, backed by the army's gunships, conducted an operation against the militants in Attshana mountain range west of Mosul. The Iraqi army killed 66 militants, many of whom were wearing explosive belts, the ministry said in a statement.
The extremist militants were preparing to move to Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, to carry out attacks against the civilians and the security forces in the city, the statement said.
On July 10, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially declared the liberation of Mosul, some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, from IS after nearly nine months of fierce fighting to dislodge the extremist militants from their last major stronghold in Iraq.
The Iraqi forces, including the predominantly Shiite Hashd Shaabi units and Sunni tribal fighters, took new positions near the town of Tal Afar, some 70 km west of Mosul, to free the town and nearby areas from IS militants.
The Iraqi forces still have to wage more offensives to drive out IS militants from their redoubts in eastern bank of Shirqat, Hawijah in southwestern Kirkuk and the adjacent sprawling rugged areas in eastern Salahudin province, in addition to the remaining IS strongholds in the border towns with Syria in western Anbar province.