Iraqi and Kurdish forces advancing on Mosul have been attacked by suicide bombers and IEDs placed by the Islamic State group.

As part of their push to retake the city, the Iraqi forces are preparing to launch an offensive on Qaraqosh, the country’s largest Christian town.

Qaraqosh and its surrounding district of Hamdaniya sit about 15 kilometres (10 miles) southeast Mosul, and retaking it would be a major milestone in the campaign.

We are surrounding Hamdaniya now, said Lieutenant General Riyadh Tawfiq, commander of Iraq’s ground forces.

We are preparing a plan to assault it and clear it later, he said. 

There are some pockets (of resistance), some clashes, they send car bombs — but it will not help them.

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News of the move sparked jubilation among Christians who had fled the town when IS seized it. Many relocated to Arbil, the capital of the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Today is a happy moment, said Hazem Djedjou Cardomi, a journalist amidst a crowd gathering outside a church in Arbil, some holding candles, others singing and dancing.

Progress towards Iraq’s second-largest city slowed on Tuesday as Iraqi and Kurdish forces cleared IEDs and car bombs.

Some of them were blown up before reaching their targets, officials said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds. 

Inside Mosul, residents have spoken of a terrifying situation as IS target suspected spies.

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Brigadier Yahia Rassoul, a spokesman for the Iraqi Army’s joint forces, said: From yesterday to today there were more than 20 suicide cars that tried to target our vehicles during our advancement but they were taken care of by the heroes who man the Abram tanks and Hornets that target these suicide trucks. 

We also have air support from the Iraqi air force. There haven’t been any casualties but we managed to target and destroy them.

The attacks were a sign of the struggles that could face the troops when they reach Mosul.

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Another concern was the involvement of Shia militias in the assault on mainly Sunni Mosul, raising fears the campaign could inflame sectarian tensions.

Rights groups have accused the Shia militias of abuses in past campaigns against IS-held areas.

Seeking to alleviate those concerns, Shia militia leaders said they will only focus on capturing the mostly Shia town of Tal Afar to the west of Mosul, and not enter the city itself.

The operation to retake Mosul is the largest launched by the Iraqi army since the 2003 invasion by US-led forces.

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 Some 25,000 troops, including Sunni tribal fighters, Kurdish forces known as the Peshmerga and Shia militias are approaching the city from different directions.

(c) Sky News 2016: Mosul advanced slowed down by Islamic State car bombs