Iraqi Shia militias massed fighters to severe remaining ISIL supply routes to Mosul, closing in on the road that links the Syrian and Iraqi parts of the group’s self-declared caliphate.
Five weeks into the US-backed offensive on Mosul, ISIL is fighting in the area of Tal Afar, 60km to the west, against the Popular Mobilisation Forces – a coalition of mostly Iranian-backed Shia armed groups sanctioned by Baghdad.
The government’s US-trained Counter Terrorism Service unit breached ISIL’s defences in east Mosul at the end of October and is fighting to expand a foothold it gained there.
The road to Tal Afar is no longer safe, said a truck driver who used it two days ago to bring in fruit and vegetables from Raqqa, ISIL’s Syrian stronghold.
He said he saw three trucks burning on the road while fighting raged in the vicinity.
“This is the last time I drive on this road, it will be cut,” he told Reuters news agency by telephone, asking not to be identified as ISIL punishes by death those caught communicating with the outside world.