Iraqi forces hold a position near Al-Shura village on October 24, 2016, during an operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, which included efforts to capture other nearby villages such as Karamlech, Bartalla and Qaraqosh
Karamlech (Irak) (AFP) - On the edge of Karamlech, the Iraqi infantry commander triumphantly announced the capture of the village, even as bursts of gunfire crackled and thick smoke blackened the horizon.
In their advance from the southeast towards the city of Mosul, bastion of the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq, tanks of the 9th Armoured Division on Monday rolled into the Christian village which lies 10 kilometres (six miles) away.
There had been some resistance, as witnessed by an overturned and burnt-out tank and the shell-pocked and charred walls of any homes left standing.
"We caught them by surprise this morning and neutralised the IS elements in the village. Militarily, our mission here is over," non-commissioned officer Sadeq, perched on top of a tank, told AFP.
But although the hours-long barrage of tank fire was over, mopping up operations were only just starting in Karamlech, like in the nearby towns of Bartalla and Qaraqosh where they have been ongoing for three days.
The army's capture of the village was also helped by a withdrawal of IS fighters.
Some made off to the north and Mosul, while soldiers said others could have taken refuge in the many tunnels which the jihadists have dug around the village and in its sewers.
One soldier, Ryad, let rip with his machinegun from atop a tank to lure return fire and force any militant to give away his hiding place.
Divided into small groups, the soldiers went from house to house, letting off bursts of gunfire.
- Mushroom cloud -
"We're inspecting the houses, the tunnels and the sides of the road, looking for bombs," said a soldier, his face masked to protect against the clouds of dust kicked up strong winds.
They especially looked out for explosive-rigged vehicles, which IS fighters have left at the entrances to villages and towns since the start of the offensive to recapture Mosul a week ago.
Officers jumped as an explosion erupted at the edge of the village. After a bright flash, a large mushroom cloud rose from a university building.
"It was a truck loaded with explosives that they left behind in the building," Captain Samer told AFP, after speaking to his men inside the village by radio.
General Tawfiq added: "Our men triggered the explosion. It's all under the army's control."
Karamlech is strategic because seizing the village would open up the road to Mosul, he explained.
Inside the village, soldiers wearing the green bandana of Shiite fighters around their foreheads paraded on the church's rooftop, for the first time in two years waving the Iraqi flag instead of IS's black banner.
They improvised a cross from two pieces of wood and fixed it on the top of the building.
On the hill beside the church, where the stairs were covered with burning tyres and metal debris, a gust of wind swept up a thick white tarpaulin from the ground.
It hid the entrance to a tunnel. Jihadists have been known to spring out of underground passages like this to take Iraqi troops by surprise.