Iraq’s defence minister criticised the US on Sunday for declaring a timeframe for an offensive to recapture the Islamic State’s northern stronghold of Mosul, saying military commanders should not show their hand to the enemy.

Khaled al-Obeidi said the timing of the Mosul assault on Isis was for Iraq to decide, and that a US Central Command official who predicted the attack was likely to take place in April or May had no knowledge of the issue.

Isis fighters seized Mosul last June as they swept through northern Iraq towards Baghdad, meeting virtually no resistance from the army and establishing a self-declared caliphate straddling the border between Iraq and Syria.

The US and its allies have launched months of air strikes against Isis targets and Washington is training up 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 US Central Command official said on Thursday that an Iraqi and Kurdish military force of 20,000 to 25,000 troops was being prepared to recapture the city, probably in April or May. But Obeidi declined to confirm that timetable, and expressed irritation at the remarks.

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