Residents in areas in southern Mosul began to leave their homes on Saturday after Iraq’s armed forces went on the offensive against Islamic State (Daesh / ISIS).

Iraq’s armed forces went on the offensive on Thursday in what Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described as the first phase of a campaign to liberate the city of Mosul.

The assault was launched from the Makhmour area, to which thousands of Iraqi troops have deployed in recent weeks, setting up base alongside Kurdish Peshmerga and U.S. forces around 60 km south of Mosul, Islamic State’s main bastion.

Iraqi officials say they will retake Mosul this year but, in private, many question whether the army, which partially collapsed when Islamic State overran a third of the country in June 2014, will be ready in time, Reuters reported.