Sunday 20 August 2017

Iraq forces make gains in Mosul after reclaiming western districts

Iraqi civilians walk through rubble as they flee fighting between Iraqi special forces and Islamic State militants in western Mosul (AP)
Iraqi civilians walk through rubble as they flee fighting between Iraqi special forces and Islamic State militants in western Mosul (AP)

Iraq's special forces declared their mission in Mosul complete on Saturday after the group retook the last western districts from the Islamic State group within their area of operation, according to a military spokesman.

The announcement came despite ongoing battles in a handful of western Mosul neighbourhoods that continue to force hundreds of civilians to flee each day.

IS still controls some areas of western Mosul, including the dense Old City where some of the toughest battles are expected to play out.

Special forces spokesman Sabah al-Numan said his troops had completed their initial mission, but stood ready "to support any other forces if we are ordered to by the prime minister".

Elsewhere in central and southern Iraq, a series of bombings killed at least 27 people.

A suicide bombing Saturday near the oil-rich city of Basra killed at least eight people and wounded 41 others, according to a military commander.

Five civilians and three troops were killed when the bomber blew up his explosives-laden car on Friday at a checkpoint north of Basra just behind a bus waiting to be cleared, said chief of the Basra Operations Command, Lieutenant General Jamil al-Shimmari.

A second attacker drove down a desert road after the explosion and security forces killed him, Lt Gen al-Shimmari added.

In an online statement, IS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted Shiites.

Basra, about 340 miles south east of Baghdad, is home to about 70% of the country's proven oil reserves of 153.1 billion barrels.

Located on the Persian Gulf and bordering Kuwait and Iran, the city is also Iraq's only outlet to the sea and the hub for most of the country's oil exports, with 3.23 million barrels exported from Basra last month.

IS also claimed responsibility for the double suicide bombings in Baghdad overnight that killed at least 19 people and wounded 33, according to an online statement.

Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led coalition, officially launched the operation to retake Mosul in October and the city's east was declared "fully liberated" in January.

The fight for Mosul's west was launched the following month and has been marked by some of the most gruelling and deadly combat in the fight against IS in Iraq to date.

AP

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