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West Mosul residents told battle is imminent as Iraqi forces begin moving

Watch Iraqis Drift Through Mosul to Bedevil ISIS

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 USA defense secretary met with officials to discuss the fight against the extremists.

Iraqi troops, backed by USA forces, launched a ground battle to retake western Mosul from Islamic State (IS) in a campaign that is expected to be complicated and extended, but will mean a significant loss to Islamic State as it will be forced to give up on its territorial ambitions in Iraq.

Women in Mosul were also starving, and therefore mothers were finding it extremely hard to produce milk to breastfeed their children, leading to an ever deteriorating situation in Iraq's second city.

Federal police and interior ministry forces were expected to start the new phase in the offensive by moving on Mosul airport, which is on the southern edge of the city, west of the Tigris River.

On Sunday, the Iraqi Air Force released videos and images allegedly showing overnight airstrikes carried out against ISIS positions.

This prevented both sides from resorting to heavierweapons, avoiding large-scale destruction, as was the case inthe battles of Fallujah and Ramadi."We know that IS targets people who try to flee, causingmany casualties", Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a top commander of theelite Counter-Terrorism Service that did most of the fighting, told AFP.

"They are striking and engaging our forces and pulling back toward Mosul", Major Mortada Ali Abd of the Rapid Response units told a Reuters correspondent south of Mosul.

James Mattis, the USA defence secretary, declined to offer details about U.S. battle plans when speaking to reporters in the United Arab Emirates.

Mosul's centre, which includes the mosque where Baghdadi made his only public appearance in June 2014, is inaccessible to vehicles, so troops will go in on foot.

In a written statement, the organization's Iraq country director Maurizio Crivallero said, "Iraqi forces and their allies, including the U.S. and United Kingdom, must do everything in their power to protect children and their families from harm, and avoid civilian buildings like schools and hospitals as they push deeper into the city".

Then the fighting will move to the narrow streets of western Mosul, where Isis and an estimated 650,000 civilians remain.

Meanwhile, militants renewed their attacks in eastern Mosul, sending suicide bombers to kill soldiers and disrupt Iraqi operations. "Our cannons are targeting Daesh defence lines with heavy fire", federal police chief Raed Shaker Jawdat said, using and Arabic acronym for ISIL, also known as ISIS. It later retracted that statement and fighting continues in some parts of the east.

Mattis arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday, as the Pentagon considers ways to accelerate the campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

The Mosul airstrike was one of 20 strikes launched by the coalition against IS militants in Syria and Iraq on Friday.