Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said on Sunday the timing of the Mosul assault was for Iraq to decide, criticizing a U.S. Central Command official who predicted the attack was likely to take place in April or May
Obeidi said that military commanders should not show their hand to the enemy and that the U.S. official had no knowledge of the issue, stressing the importance of accuracy in planning.
“This is an urban warfare and we have civilian populations. It is very important to take time and be accurate in setting the plan for this battle and we are working now with utmost accuracy. Zero hour cannot be revealed in military battles before finishing all preparations,” Obeidi said.
“A military official should not reveal the offensive timing and naturally this is a military secret. The battle for Mosul starts when preparations are complete. I don't know where the American official got this information. They absolutely do not have knowledge on this issue,” he added.
Islamic State fighters seized Mosul in June as they swept through northern Iraq toward Baghdad, meeting virtually no resistance from the army and establishing a self-declared caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria.
Training, equipping Iraq troops
The United States and its allies have waged months of airstrikes against Islamic State targets, and Washington is training and equipping the Iraqi military to recapture territory.
The battle for Mosul -- the largest city in northern Iraq -- is expected to be pivotal in that struggle.
A U.S. Central Command official said on Thursday that an Iraqi and Kurdish military force of 20,000 to 25,000 troops is being prepared to recapture Mosul, probably in April or May.
He was speaking as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met the general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East.
Abadi's office said that in his talks with General Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command, the prime minister said international support to Iraq had increased in recent days, without giving details.
Abadi said there had been progress in “mobilizing and recruiting residents in Nineveh, Anbar and Salahuddin to liberate them from the terrorist gangs” referring to the three provinces where Islamic State has the greatest control.