By Arif Yusuf, Serhad Shakir and Ahmed Qassem
Iraqi forces launched a military operation on Sunday to capture the northwestern city of Tal Afar from Daesh terrorist group, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced.
"Daesh militants have no choice but to either surrender or die," al-Abadi said in a televised statement.
He said the army, anti-terrorism forces, federal police and the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia were taking part in the offensive.
Shortly after the start of the offensive, Iraqi forces managed to capture two villages on the outskirts of Tal Afar.
"Anti-terrorism forces have liberated the villages of Kizil Koyu and Qasr Mihrab in southwestern Tal Afar from Daesh," Army Capt. Haidar Ali al-Waeli told Anadolu Agency.
Military experts, however, expect that Iraqi forces would face "difficulties" while battling to recapture Tal Afar.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, retired army general Yas Aboud al-Ghanfari said around 2,500 Daesh militants were believed to be holed up in the city.
"The militants are expected to show a fierce resistance to the offensive," he said.
A predominantly Turkmen city, Tal Afar was captured by Daesh in mid-2014 along with vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq.
Iraq has amassed some 400,000 troops in preparations for the decisive offensive to recapture the city.
Last month, Iraqi forces dislodged Daesh from their last stronghold in Mosul, once Iraq’s second largest city in terms of population.