Monday 16 September 2019

Iraqi troops resume Mosul operation after two-week lull in fight against IS

Iraqis displaced from Mosul receive aid (AP/Cengiz Yar)
Iraqis displaced from Mosul receive aid (AP/Cengiz Yar)

Iraqi troops have pushed deeper into Mosul after a two-week lull in the operation to retake the Islamic State-held city.

Backed by air strikes, Iraqi special forces, army troops and federal police launched a push on five neighbourhoods.

Smoke rose across the city as explosions and machine gun fire echoed through the streets.

Stiff resistance by the militants, civilians trapped inside their houses and bad weather have slowed advances in the offensive to recapture Iraq's second largest city, which is the extremist group's last urban bastion in the country.

Earlier this week, Lt Gen Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, commander of the special forces in eastern Mosul, said his forces have been bolstered by reinforcements.

He said his forces are now less than two miles from the Tigris River, which slices the city in half.

A US-led coalition air strike this week destroyed the last remaining bridge over the river.

On Thursday, elite special forces pushed into the Karama and Quds neighbourhoods, while army troops and federal police advanced into the nearby Intisar, Salam and Sumor neighbourhoods.

It is the biggest Iraqi military operation since the 2003 US-led invasion.

The special forces, officially known as the Counter Terrorism Service, have done most of the fighting, pushing in from the east.

But regular army troops on the city's south-east and northern edges, as well as militarised federal police further west, have not moved in weeks, unable to penetrate the city.

The troops have faced gruelling urban fighting, often house-to-house against IS militants who have had more than two years to dig in and prepare.

Even in districts that have been recaptured, Iraqi troops have faced surprise attacks, shelling and car bombs. The extremists have launched more than 900 car bombs against Iraqi troops in and around Mosul. Lt Gen al-Saadi said 260 targeted his men.

He said he expected Iraqi forces would drive IS from Mosul and the rest of Nineveh province within three months. Iraqi leaders had previously vowed to drive the extremists from Mosul by the end of the year.

IS captured Mosul in the summer of 2014, when it swept across much of northern and central Iraq, and the group's leader declared the establishment of its self-styled caliphate from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

The city is still home to around a million people. Some 120,000 have fled since the operation began on October 17, according to the United Nations.


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