A tank of the Iraqi army is seen in the town of Qayyara , Iraq August 24, 2016. Picture taken August 24, 2016. (Reuters photo)
BAGHDAD, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday declared the liberation of Qayyara, a town near the Islamic State (IS) stronghold in Mosul, a government statement said.
"Our heroic forces made a great victory today on their way to liberate Mosul after they defeated the terrorist gangs of Daaish (IS group). I congratulate our people about the liberation of the strategic town of Qayyara and surrounding areas," Abadi, who is also commander-in-chief of Iraqi forces, said in a statement posted by his office.
Qayyara is located 50 km south of Mosul, the capital of Iraq's northern Nineveh province.
The Liberation of Qayyara and the nearby airbase would mean that the security forces will be "closer to the main goal of liberating Mosul in order to rescue its people from the oppression of Daaish gangs," the statement said.
The Free Nineveh Operations Command said the battles in Qayyara left dozens of IS militants killed, including suicide bombers and snipers.
The operation to free Qayyara began on Tuesday when the troops advance at dawn from several directions toward the town and freed its nearby oil refinery before seizing the local government building after heavy clashes with IS militants.
Last month, security forces made a significant victory when they recaptured a strategic airbase near Qayyara.
Regaining control of the town and the nearby airbase would help government troops' effort to free Iraq's last major IS stronghold in Mosul, which is located some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.