BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of an offensive to retake Mosul, the capital of Islamic State's so-called caliphate in Iraq.
"The hour has come and the moment of great victory is near," he said in a speech on state TV, surrounded by the armed forces' top commanders. "I announce today the start of the operation to liberate the province of Nineveh."
The assault on Mosul is backed the U.S.-led coalition and could be one be the biggest military operations in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
"We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation," Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy to the coalition against Islamic State, said on Twitter at the start of the Mosul offensive.
Mosul is the last major stronghold of ultra-hardline Sunni group in Iraq.
With a pre-war population of around 2 million, the northern Iraqi city is the largest city Islamic State has controlled after it declared a "caliphate" in Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)