Iraqi forces yesterday launched a fresh push southwest of Mosul to retake the Hatra area, which includes a UN-listed World Heritage site, a statement said.
The operation marks the latest phase of an offensive launched by the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) paramilitary forces in parallel to the main assault on Mosul begun six months ago.
The Hashed forces, dominated by Iran-backed militias, have focused their efforts on a front southwest of Mosul which aims at retaking the town of Tal Afar as well as desert areas stretching to the border with Syria.
“Hashed al-Shaabi forces launched Operation Mohamed Rasool Allah aimed at liberating Hatra and neighbouring areas,” the organisation said in a statement. 
It said that five villages had already been retaken from the Islamic State group yesterday and that Hashed engineering units were clearing the road to Hatra of explosive devices.
Hatra, known as Al-Hadhr in Arabic, was established in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and became a religious and trading centre under the Parthian empire. Its imposing fortifications helped it withstand sieges by the forces of two Roman emperors: Trajan in 166 AD and Septimus Severus in 198. Hatra finally succumbed to Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty, a few decades later, but the city remained well-preserved over the centuries that followed.