On December 20, a senior commander of an Iran-run Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) unit in Iraq said the militia forces were stationed within three kilometers of Tal Afar city and were awaiting for an order from Baghdad to enter the city center.
According to Jawad al-Talibawi, a spokesman for the armed wing of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iran-backed Shiite militia group, said forces from Kata'ib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Organization, and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada are tasked to lead the military operations to “liberate” Tal Afar.
On December 15, the PMF announced that its forces had “freed” 10 villages in western Mosul, closed all supply routes into Tal Afar, and killed more than 65 Islamic State fighters. And last month, PMF forces seized Tal Afar’s military airbase, which is about 7 miles from the center of Tal Afar.
Tal Afar is a major Islamic State stronghold located about 40 miles west of Mosul and a conduit for the group’s supply lines to and from Syria. Once inhabited by both Sunnis and Shiites, Tal Afar’s population is now largely Sunnis.
The predominant role of Iranian-led militia forces in the battle against the Islamic State in western Mosul, particularly in Tal Afar, has alarmed many Iraqis and regional Sunni governments. Iraqi Sunni lawmakers and regional Sunni leaders have repeatedly expressed the worry that Iran’s sectarian militia may engage in revenge killings against Tal Afar’s Sunni inhabitants once the Islamic State is ousted. Turkey, in particular, has warned that it would not remain silent to the PMF’s advances into Tal Afar.