ISIL fighters have attacked a police base in a town that is being used as a staging ground for the Mosul offensive, killing at least three policemen, Iraqi officials say.

Mahmoud Attia, a police spokesman, told AP news agency that a sleeper cell of three ISIL fighters attacked the base on Sunday in Hamam al-Alil, about 30km south of Mosul.

Rudaw, a local television channel whose reporters were inside the base, said at least two suicide attackers entered the facility before detonating their payloads.

A group of about 10 assailants, including four suicide bombers, had tried to infiltrate a Federal Police helicopter base in Al-Areej, a police captain told Reuters.

The largest city in northern Iraq, Mosul was captured by ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, in mid-2014.

Backed by the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched an operation, their largest in years, in mid-October last year to retake the city.

 

They retook the side of the city that lies east of the River Tigris in January and launched a push on remaining ISIL fighters in western Mosul, which is more densely populated and has seen fierce fighting.

On the west bank, Iraqi forces control southern neighbourhoods and are slowly surrounding the Old City, whose narrow streets are expected to make federal operations very difficult.

Residents who managed to escape from the Old City say that there is almost nothing to eat but flour mixed with water and boiled wheat grain.

The loss of Mosul would be a huge blow to ISIL, also known as ISIS, in Iraq.

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According to an Iraqi military spokesman, ISIL only controls seven percent of Iraq, down from the 40 percent of the national territory over which it ruled three years ago.

The only two other significant towns ISIL still holds are Hawija and Tal Afar. The group also controls territory in remote areas of western Iraq, near the Syrian border.

Iraqi forces on Thursday launched a fresh push against ISIL-held villages there, as part of a months-old operation to retake areas along the Euphrates in western Anbar province.

Fighting has killed several thousand civilians and fighters on both sides, according to aid organisations.

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Source: News agencies