BAGHDAD, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Iraqi forces captured several villages on Sunday, as they advanced from the south toward the western side of Mosul that is still under control of Islamic State, Iraqi military said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi earlier on Sunday announced the formal start of the ground offensive on western Mosul, asking the Iraqi forces to ''respect human rights'' during the battle.
The Islamic State militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after U.S.-backed forces surrounding the city forced them from the east in the first phase of an offensive that concluded last month.
“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world,” the commander of the U.S.-led coalitions forces, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said in a statement.
Iraqi planes dropped millions of leaflets on the western side of Mosul warning residents that the battle to dislodge Islamic State was imminent as troops began moving in their direction, the Iraqi Defence Ministry said on Saturday.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli. Editing by Jane Merriman)