U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a major air-and-ground offensive Sunday to retake western Mosul from Islamic State militants and drive the extremist group from its last major urban bastion in Iraq. Ground units pushed into a belt of villages outside the country’s second-largest city, and plumes of smoke rose into the sky early in the morning as U.S.-led

coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery. “This is zero hour and we are going to end this war, God willing,” said Mahmoud Mansour, a police officer, as he prepared to move out. The United Nations warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside their homes in Mosul “are at extreme risk,” with dwindling fuel, food and water and scarce electricity. READ MORE