File - In this Monday, Oct. 31, 2016 file photo, a man rides his bike on a street as smoke rises from burning oil fields in Qayara, some 50 kilometers south of Mosul, Iraq. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
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The Ninevah desert south of Mosul along the Tigris River valley is dotted with dozens of populated villages that have repeatedly slowed down Iraqi forces.With fewer chances of casualties, heavy airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi artillery have helped clear territory and speed progress.The operation that pushed Daesh out of Al-Shura – a village of fewer than 1,000 houses about 35 km south of Mosul – required days of preparation and about 2,000 Iraqi army and federal police to take on no more than 50 militants. The methodical assault was intended to minimize casualties among Iraq's armed forces – a military force still recovering from the catastrophic defeat suffered in Mosul's fall in 2014 . When U.S. forces battled Al-Qaeda in Iraq – the predecessor to Daesh on these same desert plains, the fighters repeatedly fell back into Mosul and nearby villages to regroup.In the days before the assault, Iraqi forces watched via coalition surveillance drones as hundreds of Daesh fighters withdrew northward from Al-Shura, taking thousands of civilians with them, said federal police Lt. Col. Hussein Nazim.Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded U.S. forces in Mosul in 2003, relied heavily on local forces to secure Ninevah province.
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