The advance began after heavy shelling and air strikes by a United States-led coalition against IS forces, a Reuters correspondent reported from Wardak, 30 km (19 miles) southeast of Mosul. The militants fought back, firing mortars at the advancing troops and detonating at least two car bombs.
A Peshmerga commander said a dozen villages had been taken from the ultra-hardline Sunni militants as Kurdish forces headed toward Gwer, the target of the operation, 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Mosul.
Repairing a bridge that the militants destroyed in Gwer would allow the Peshmerga to open a new front around Mosul. The bridge crosses the Grand Zab river that flows into the Tigris.
IS said in a statement on its Amaq news service that two car bombs driven by suicide fighters were detonated in one of the villages to block advancing Kurdish forces, causing casualties among the Peshmerga.
Authorities in autonomous Kurdistan gave no toll for the fighting, other than confirming the death of a Kurdish TV cameraman and the injury of another journalist.
Clouds of black smoke rose from the scene of fighting and dozens of civilians fled in the direction of Peshmerga lines, brandishing white flags.
The Iraqi army and the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdish self-rule region are gradually taking up positions around Mosul, 400 km (250 miles) north of the capital Baghdad.
It was from Mosul’s Grand Mosque in 2014 that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning regions of Iraq and Syria.
Mosul is the largest urban center under the militants’ control, and had a pre-war population of nearly 2 million.
Its fall would mark the effective defeat of Islamic State in Iraq, according to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has said he aims to retake the city this year. (Courtesy Reuters)