Kurdish forces fighting IS in Iraq take control of key river crossing near Mosul

Authorities say recapturing Mosul would effectively signal the defeat of IS in the country

Kurdish forces fighting IS in Iraq take control of key river crossing near Mosul

Hundreds of civilians flee villages outside Mosul the day after Iraqi Kurdish forces launch an operation east of Islamic State-held Mosul. Image: Susannah George / AP/Press Association Images

Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting Islamic State in Iraq have taken control of a strategic river crossing point near the group's de facto Iraqi capital, Mosul.

Backed by airstrikes from the US-led coalition, they have reached Kanhash, at the western side of the Gwer bridge.

The bridge, which lies across the Great Zab river to the southeast of Mosul, was damaged by IS fighters two years ago as they swept through northern and western Iraq.

Repairing the bridge would allow Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and other anti-IS forces to move towards the city from a new front, as the Iraqi army also closes in on the IS stronghold from the south.

"Control over Kanhash Heights give the Peshmerga strategic advantage over nearby enemy positions and the main road linking Mosul," tweeted Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Region Security Council.

The move forms part of a two-day offensive during which the Iraqi Kurdish forces have captured several positions from the terror group near its Mosul bastion, 250 miles north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

The Kurdish military command issued a statement on Monday naming 10 villages it said its forces had reconquered, covering an area of around 58 square miles.

IS said it has been using car bombs driven and detonated by suicide fighters to try to slow advancing Kurdish forces.

It was from Mosul's Grand Mosque in 2014 that IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared a "caliphate" spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.

Recapturing the city would effectively signal the defeat of IS in Iraq, according to Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who has said he aims to retake it this year.

US-backed government forces have trained their sights on the city since retaking full control of Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad.

Up to one million people could be forced to flee their homes in northern Iraq once the fighting intensifies around Mosul, posing "a massive humanitarian problem", the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned.