MOSUL, Iraq, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) — Iraqi security forces on Saturday freed the town of Hamdaniyah from Islamic State (IS) militants near the city of Mosul, as major offensive continued to seize more ground around the city, a security source told Xinhua.

In the early morning, the Iraqi army stormed Hamdaniyah, some 40 km southeast of Mosul, from several directions and took control of the town after heavy clashes with the IS militants, the source from the Operations Command of Nineveh Liberation told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

The troops raised the Iraqi flag on the local government building in central Hamdaniyah, which is also known as Bakhdida, the source said without giving further details about casualties.

The troops also took control of the nearby Christian village of Karamlis after the extremis IS militants fled their positions, the source said.

Heavy battles are underway in what is known as Nineveh Plain, which lies to the east and northeast of Mosul, the capital of Iraq' s northern province of Nineveh.

Various religious and ethnic minority groups, mostly Assyrian Christians, inhabit the villages and towns of the vast plain.

Many members of the minorities in the plain have fled during the chaos and ensuing insecurity that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Another wave of exodus, of mostly non-Sunni Muslim minorities, came after June 2014, when the extremist IS group took control of Nineveh province and seized large parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.

On Oct. 17, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, announced the start of a major offensive to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city.

Mosul, some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled.