An Iraqi soldier fires a rocket propelled grenade during the offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS. Photo: Reuters

The Iraqi army launched an operation on Saturday to take Qaraqosh, a Christian town near Mosul, the last major city stronghold of Islamic State in Iraq, the military said.

Qaraqosh, about 20 kilometers southeast of Mosul, was emptied of its population in 2014, when Islamic State swept through the region.

Iraqi special units earlier this week captured Bartella, a Christian village north of Qaraqosh.

The offensive that started on Monday to capture Mosul is backed by the US-led coalition. It is expected to become the biggest battle fought in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. Islamic State also controls parts of Syria.

The army is also trying to advance on Mosul from the south while Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are holding fronts in the east and north.

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