Iraqi government-sanctioned militias in push to take villages west of Mosul

Iraqis are drifting cars through the streets of Mosul to spite ISIS

The worldwide artillery and aircraft bombarded IS positions and headquarters in Shifaa neighborhood and the city's health department in the western bank of Tigris River, which bisects Mosul, leaving at least 24 IS militants killed and wounding dozens others, Mohammed Ibrahim al-Baiyati, head of provincial security committee told Xinhua.

Iraqi forces advanced Monday into the southern outskirts of Mosul on the second day of a push to drive Islamic State militants from the city's western half, as the visiting US defense secretary met with officials to discuss the fight against the extremists.

Iraq has launched an operation to regain control of western Mosul from ISIS militants, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Sunday.

Since 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has held northern Iraq's Mosul, the country's second-largest city, and the jihadists last major urban bastion.

The US-led coalition - which has provided air support and advisers on the ground - said before the Mosul offensive began that 5,000 to 7,000 jihadists had been holed up in the ravaged city.

The forces will not be able to attack across the river because all five bridges connecting the eastern and western parts of the city are heavily damaged, so the offensive is expected to come from the south and west.

"I don't anticipate that we will be asked to leave by the government of Iraq immediately after Mosul", Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said.

American intelligence estimates before the Mosul operation which began on 17 October previous year and mustered 100,000 men, said that Daesh had approximately between 5,000-7,000 men.

Iraq's Rapid Response Division pounded the village of Albu Saif to drive out Islamic State militants, as forces bear down on Mosul airport in the next phase of its operation.

Up to 400,000 people could be displaced from western Mosul where residents are already suffering food and fuel shortages and many markets have closed, according to the United Nations. "Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh [ISIL]".

The defence ministry announced last month that ISIL had been nearly completely pushed out of the eastern side of the city, which is divided by the Tigris.

Caption: Iraqi Army leaflets dropped over western Mosul prior to the offensive. It later retracted that statement and fighting continues in some parts of the east. They want liberty and they will use force to get it.

The westward road that links the city to Syria was cut in November by the Shi'ite paramilitary known as Popular Mobilization forces.

Separately, the Iraqi Army's 9th Division moved into the village of Bakhira, also southwest of the city, the Ministry of Defense said.

Explaining the harsh realities of the situation, Crivallero said, "This is a grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay-or execution and snipers if that try to run". Medical and humanitarian agencies estimate the total number of dead and wounded - both civilian and military - at several thousand.