MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The Kurdish Peshmerga said the town of Bashiqa near Mosul is under control, cutting off a major supply route for the Islamic State.
Bashiqa is about 8 miles northeast of Mosul, where Iraqi security forces began a ground offensive last week to capture the city from Islamic State control after months of preparation with the help of the Peshmerga and a U.S.-led international coalition.
"The Peshmerga forces have completely controlled Bashiqa town," Halgurd Hikmat, the Peshmerga media director, told Rudaw.
Also on Sunday, the Peshmerga said it took control of a portion of the Bashiqa-Mosul highway, which is preventing Islamic State reinforcements from reaching Mosul.
The Christian towns of Hamdaniya and Bartella were also freed over the weekend, Lt. Gen. Riyad Jalal, an Iraqi security forces commander, told state-run al-Iraqiya TV on Sunday, CNN reported.
In Hamdaniya, also known as Qaraqosh, authorities were working to return local officials to the town to reopen main public buildings and to plan infrastructure repair after years of Islamic State rule. At least 50 IS militants were killed and their equipment was destroyed, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Maliki said.
In Bartella, near Hamdaniya, Christian church bells rang for the first time since the Islamic State seized the town more than two years ago, local media reported.
Mosul is considered one of the most important battles in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, as it is considered the militant Islamist group's last major stronghold in the country. U.S. President Barack Obama and Iraqi officials have said they expect Mosul to be retaken by the Iraqi government by the end of the year.