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Friday 2 December 2016

Iraqi troops slow down in advance to Mosul city centre

Published 20/11/2016 | 15:16

An Iraqi special forces soldier stands by destroyed shops as he patrols at an al-Tahrir front line area in Mosul (AP)
An Iraqi special forces soldier stands by destroyed shops as he patrols at an al-Tahrir front line area in Mosul (AP)

Iraqi troops fortified their positions on Sunday in areas of Mosul retaken from the Islamic State (IS) group as their advance toward the city centre was slowed by sniper fire, suicide bombings and concerns over civilians.

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A few hundred civilians emerged from rubble-strewn areas on Sunday. They included women and children, some of them carrying bags, small suitcases or waving white flags. Mosul is still home to more than one million people.

"The biggest hindrance to us is the civilians, whose presence is slowing us down," Major General Sami al-Aridi of the special forces told The Associated Press.

"We are soldiers who are not trained to carry out humanitarian tasks."

The government sent six trucks loaded with food aid into the recently-liberated areas. Chaos broke out in one area when residents climbed on top of the trucks and began helping themselves.

"It's hunger that makes people behave like this," said Mohammed Farouq, a 27-year-old resident. "Some families took many boxes while others did not take any. This is unfair."

Mr Al-Aridi said his men were searching homes in areas retaken from IS, looking for militants and vehicles rigged with explosives.

Troops in those areas continue to be hit by mortar rounds, sniper fire and suicide bombers, he said.

In the newly-liberated areas, roads are blocked by car wrecks and sandbags while tanks are deployed on wider streets. Snipers on high buildings watch for suicide bombers or other intruders.

Brigadier General Haider Fadhil said four civilians were killed and another four wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded before it could reach the troops it was targeting late on Saturday.

The troops laid siege on Sunday to the Al-Zohour area, about five miles from the city centre.

The arrival of the troops at the area's fringes prompted hundreds of civilians to emerge from their homes waving white flags.

The Iraqi military launched a campaign on October 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and the extremist group's last major urban bastion in the country.

Most gains have been made by the special forces operating in the section of Mosul east of the Tigris river.

Other forces are advancing on the city from different directions and the US-led coalition is providing airstrikes and other support.

Human Rights Watch said in a report on Sunday that Sunni militiamen fighting alongside the Iraqi military detained and beat 22 men from villages near Mosul and recruited 10 children from displaced camps in the area to join the fight against IS.

"The Iraqi authorities should investigate any alleged acts of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment in custody, and charge those responsible for war crimes, including anyone with command responsibility who should have known about the crimes and failed to take all reasonable measures to prevent them," said the New York-based advocacy group.

AP

Press Association

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