Displaced Iraqis who fled the Islamic State stronghold receive humanitarian aid supplies at Hassan Sham camp, east of Mosul, Iraq, Feruary 12, 2017. (REUTERS Photo)
BAGHDAD, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of Islamic State (IS) militants launched an attack on the paramilitary units of Hashd Shaabi, using tanks for the first time, west of Iraq's northern city of Mosul, a military statement said on Monday.
The attack took place late on Sunday when more than 200 IS militants, backed by tanks and suicide car bombers, targeted positions of Hashd Shaabi units in Ayn Tawi, Ayn al-Hsan and Sharaie', near the IS-held town of Tal Afar, some 70 km west of Mosul, a Hashd Shaabi statement said.
The IS militants were trying to retake control of a highway that would reconnect Mosul with Raqqa in neighboring Syria, apparently to enable some senior IS leaders to flee the encircled western side of Mosul, according to the statement.
The assault sparked more than six hours of fierce clashes with Hashd Shaabi units, which repelled the attack and foiled the militants' attempt to break the siege on Mosul, located some 400 km north of Baghdad, the statement added.
A total of 50 IS militants were killed and 17 suicide car bombs were destroyed, the statement said.
It did not say whether the paramilitary units destroyed any of the tanks.
In June 2014, the IS group took control of large parts of Iraq's northern and western regions, and managed to seize large a amount of army weapons and equipment, including tanks and armored vehicles, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their positions and fled.
During the past few months, the Hashd Shaabi units have advanced to surround the town of Tal Afar, and seized the vast areas west of Mosul, cutting off the IS supply route between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the self-declared IS caliphate.
The advance to Tal Afar was part of a massive offensive to dislodge IS militants from Mosul, their last major IS stronghold in Iraq.