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BAGHDAD – The Iraqi army pushed into a town near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul on Saturday, a day after dozens of IS militants stormed into the northern city of Kirkuk, setting off two days of clashes and killing at least 80 people, mostly security forces.
Here is a look at key developments on the sixth day of the Mosul offensive.
The Iraqi army said the 9th Division has pushed into the town of Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida, and raised the flag over its government compound, but the troops were likely still facing resistance in and around the town, which is some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mosul.
Hamdaniyah is believed to be largely uninhabited. IS has heavily mined the approaches to Mosul, and Iraqi forces have had to contend with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs as they move closer to the city.
An Iraqi television journalist was shot and killed by a sniper south of Mosul, a day after another Iraqi TV reporter was shot dead while covering the clashes in Kirkuk.
KIRKUK ASSAULT CONTINUES
Some fighting continued in Kirkuk a day after the IS assault on the city, some 170 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Mosul. The wave of attacks in and around Kirkuk appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from Mosul.
The Kirkuk police said at least 80 people were killed in the assault, mainly Kurdish security forces. Another 170 were wounded, and a sundown curfew has been imposed on the city. The police said they recovered the bodies of 56 militants who took part in the attack.
AIRSTRIKE ON FUNERAL PROCESSION
As the assault on Kirkuk was underway, an airstrike hit a funeral procession in the town of Daquq to the south, killing 17 people, mainly women and children, and wounding another 50, said Daquq Mayor Amir Khodakram. He said it was not clear who carried out the airstrike and that officials have launched an investigation.
The Russian Defense Ministry blamed the strike on the U.S.-led coalition, saying it had "all the signs of a war crime." The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
SULFUR PLANT FIRE
A burning sulfur plant south of Mosul that was torched by the Islamic State group is releasing large amounts of noxious gas into the atmosphere, draping towns in the area in toxic smoke.
The air has turned a greyish color as it mixes with smoke from earlier oil well fires set by the militants. The fumes make breathing difficult, and residents said they are suffering from coughing, headaches and nosebleeds from as far as 30 kilometers (18 miles) away.
US TRIES TO EASE TURKEY TENSIONS
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited to discuss the offensive and to try to ease Iraqi-Turkish tensions over the presence of some 500 Turkish troops at a base near Mosul. Iraq wants the troops to withdraw, and Turkey has refused.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi insisted that Mosul is an "Iraqi battle" and that Iraq does not need Turkish help. Carter had met with Turkish leaders a day earlier and had told reporters of an "agreement in principle" for Turkey to play a role in the Mosul battle.