IRBIL, Iraq – Iraq’s Shiite militias said Saturday that they had joined the operation to recapture the Islamic State-held city of Mosul, a move that could whip up sectarian and regional tensions in an already complex battle.
Militia leaders said that they launched an offensive toward the town of Tal Afar, about 40 miles west of Mosul, in the early hours of the morning. More than 10,000 fighters are participating, they said.
Containing the role of powerful Shiite militias presents a challenge for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as Iraqi troops push toward the largely Sunni city of Mosul in the country’s largest military operation since 2003.
In past battles against the Islamic State, the Iraqi militias have been accused of kidnappings and executions.
After more than two years of Mosul being under the militants’ rule, the battle is seen as a chance to reset relations between the city’s Sunnis and the Shiite-led government, which had plunged so low by 2014 that some of its residents welcomed the militants. How the advancing forces deal with the local population is key to rebuilding trust.