Saturday 20 January 2018

Iraqi forces move to retake another Mosul neighbourhood

Guards at a checkpoint near burning oil fields in Qayara, south of Mosul (AP)
Guards at a checkpoint near burning oil fields in Qayara, south of Mosul (AP)
A fighter wounded in the battle against Islamic State in Mosul receives treatment at a hospital in Baghdad (AP)

Iraqi troops have moved to retake another neighbourhood in the eastern sector of Mosul but are facing stiff resistance from Islamic State militants, according to a senior army commander.

Brigadier General Haider Fadel said IS fighters were targeting his forces with rockets and mortars as they slowly advanced in the densely populated Zohour neighbourhood.

"We are cautiously advancing. There are too many civilians still living there," he said.

Iraqi troops began their siege of Zohour on Sunday as they fortified their positions in neighbourhoods they had already retaken in eastern Mosul.

Suicide bombings, sniper fire and concerns over the safety of civilians - there are a million still in Mosul - have combined to slow progress in the campaign to liberate the city, which began on October 17.

Mosul, captured by IS in summer 2014, is Iraq's second-largest city and the last major IS urban bastion in the country.

Most gains in the campaign so far have been made by special forces operating east of the Tigris River. Other forces, including Kurdish peshmerga troops and volunteer Sunni militiamen, are advancing on the city from different directions, and the US-led coalition is providing air strikes and other support.

An air strike on Monday destroyed a major bridge over the Tigris in the southern part of the city, a move that appears designed to limit IS capacity to reinforce or resupply fighters on the east bank of the Tigris, where most of the fighting is taking place.

It was the third of the city's five bridges on the Tigris to be targeted by the coalition - the first two were destroyed in air strikes shortly before and after the start of the Mosul campaign - a sequence that Iraqi officers said was likely to soon extend to the remaining two bridges to completely separate the city's eastern sector from the western bank of the Tigris.

The Iraqi military is known to have received US-made pontoon bridges, which Iraqi troops will use as a substitute for the destroyed bridges.

The advance came as a new analysis found there was high risk that IS would deploy chemical weapons against Mosul civilians or Iraqi troops fighting to retake the city.

According to IHS Markit, the extremist group has used chemical weapons at least 52 times, including 19 in the Mosul area, since its fighters swept across much of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

IHS Markit, a London-based intelligence analyst firm, said Mosul served as a centre for chemical weapons production for IS.

Experts believe IS moved the materials and experts to Syria ahead of the Iraqi offensive to free the city. The analysis concluded that chlorine and mustard agents are the most likely chemicals to be used by IS in the Mosul battle.

Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said progress in liberating Mosul has been slowed by IS's use of human shields and that 1,700 militants have been killed and 120 captured since the battle began.

A third of Ninevah province, where Mosul is the capital, has been liberated so far, he added.


Press Association

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