Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says its armed forces are preparing for an offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) (Video Link Here
Mr Abadi told the BBC he hoped Mosul would be liberated in a few months’ time, and with a minimum of casualties.
Mosul, which was home to more than a million people, fell to IS last June.
Mr Abadi also said he had been “a bit frustrated” in his first few months in office by the slowness of international help for the fight against IS.
But in recent weeks, he added, the situation had changed for the better.
Mr Abadi replaced his party colleague, Nouri Maliki, as prime minister in September. Mr Maliki, also a Shia Muslim, was widely criticised for alienating Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority by pursuing sectarian policies.
Iraqi security forces, trained and backed by the US military, have been trying to retake territory from IS
IS is believed to have capitalised on that alienation when it captured large parts of northern and western Iraq last summer, routing the army.
Soldiers and allied Shia militiamen have now begun to retake territory north of the capital Baghdad with the help of US-led coalition air strikes, while Kurdish Peshmerga forces have made advances around Mosul.
In an interview with BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson, Mr Abadi said Iraqi government forces were “planning an offensive on Mosul in the next few months”.
However, he did not specify when the offensive might be launched, saying that he hoped it would be before the end of the year.
The timing of the assault depended “on the situation on the ground” and “our own preparation”, he said.
Analysis: John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor
Haider al-Abadi gives the impression that he wants to run Iraq as rationally and unemotionally as he ran his engineering company during his exile in the UK.
His predecessor, Nouri Maliki, was often accused of pushing the sectarian interests of the Shia population. Mr Abadi says he is determined to end sectarianism, and to govern in the interests of Iraq as a whole.
Is he right to be optimistic about winning back Mosul?
Islamic State is being pushed back right across Iraq, and although it still controls around a quarter of Iraqi territory it no longer inspires the terror it once did.
Last June, when IS fighters attacked Mosul, the Iraqi army just ran away. Now, the Abadi government is confident that the army, together with civilian volunteer fighters from across the country, can win Mosul back over the next few months.
If that does happen, it will be a staggering blow to Islamic State.
Mr Abadi said the operation’s success would also hinge upon close co-ordination between Iraqi security forces, the US military, and the Peshmerga.
“We don’t want problems in liberating Mosul, or friction in that sense,” he explained.
Daesh fighters have held Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities, since last summer
The Iraqi leader said he initially wished that the US-led coalition could have acted faster in the campaign against IS.
“I was a bit frustrated in my first three months of being a prime minister because of the slowness of this support.”
But, he said, it had improved in the last four or five weeks, adding: “I think the air campaign has increased in its quality and intensity.”
Mr Abadi ruled out the need for US ground troops in the campaign, saying his country needed other forms of help, such as weapons and training.
He also said he opposed closer involvement from other countries in the region in the fight against IS.
“We welcome their support, but not for these countries to get involved inside Iraq.”
“We will end up having not only helpers on our hand, but countries and intelligence agencies and armies trying to achieve their own interests.”
Despite Mr Abadi’s assertion, regional Shia power Iran has played a key role in countering IS inside Iraq. Tehran has sent Revolutionary Guards to advise the Iraqi security forces, Iranian pilots have carried out air strikes, and Iranian-backed Shia militia have been mobilised and armed.