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US says bid to retake Iraq's Mosul from IS making progress

Meanwhile, IS makes coordinated assault on natural gas plant north of Baghdad that kills at least 14 people
Flames, smoke rise from tanks after suicide bomb attack on Taji gas plant 20 kilometres north of Baghdad (AFP)

The US-led offensive to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group is making progress, the top American envoy to the coalition said on Sunday.

IS has "returned to suicide bombing" because the area under its control is shrinking and it is on the defensive, Brett McGurk said at a conference in the Jordanian capital Amman.

In Iraq, IS made a coordinated assault on a natural gas plant north of Baghdad that killed at least 14 people, while a string of other bomb attacks in or close to the capital killed 15 others, Iraqi officials told the Guardian.

"We are now making progress against Daesh," McGurk said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"The campaign to isolate and squeeze and constrict Daesh in Mosul has already began," he said.

"We are doing precision air strikes in Mosul almost every day, we have a lot of information from the people who are inside Mosul about what Daesh is doing inside the city."

The Iraqi army said in late March that its troops and allied militia had launched what was expected to be a long and difficult offensive to retake Mosul, IS's main hub in the country.

Under pressure

McGurk said IS was now under "constant, synchronised pressure".

"Their territory is shrinking and they are now doing these suicide attacks against civilian populations. It is not going to work but this is what they are trying to do and it is nothing new," said the US envoy.

While IS has suffered recent military setbacks and lost territory in both Iraq and Syria, there has been an increase in insurgency-style attacks in Iraq.

The attack on the gas plant on Sunday started at dawn with a suicide car bomber hitting the facility’s main gate in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometres north of Baghdad, the Guardian reported. Then several suicide bombers and militants broke into the plant and clashed with security forces.

Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of the 2014 IS advance and the militant group ultimately overran around a third of the country.

IS has declared an Islamic "caliphate" in areas under its control in Iraq and in neighbouring Syria, where it has also seized significant territory.

Imposing its interpretation of Islamic law, IS has committed widespread atrocities in areas under its control and launched a wave of attacks against the West.

The US-led coalition of Western and Arab nations launched air strikes against IS in Iraq in August of 2014 and has killed thousands of the militants.