Wednesday 13 December 2017

Heavy clashes as Iraqi troops drive Isil from villages

Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces prepare to attack Islamic State positions Photo: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed
Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces prepare to attack Islamic State positions Photo: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Iraqi forces fought their way into two villages near Mosul yesterday as the offensive to retake the extremist-held city entered its second week.

Iraqi special forces began shelling Isil positions before dawn near Bartella, a historically Christian town to the east of Mosul, which they had retaken last week.

With patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers on their Humvees, they then pushed into the village of Tob Zawa, about 9km from Mosul, amid heavy clashes.

After entering the village, they allowed more than 30 people who had been sheltering in a school to escape the fighting.

The Iraqi Federal Police, a military-style force, pushed into a small village in the Shura district south of Mosul, where they fired a large anti-aircraft gun and rocket-propelled grenades as they battled Isil militants. They later appeared to have secured the village and handed out water and other aid to civilians.

The US-led coalition said it carried out six airstrikes near Mosul on Sunday, destroying 19 fighting positions and 17 vehicles, as well as rocket and mortar launchers, artillery and tunnels.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into last week's purported airstrike in northern Iraq that struck the women's section of a Shiite mosque in the town of Daquq.

The strike happened amid a large Isil assault on the nearby city of Kirkuk that was meant to distract the Iraqi forces and their allies from the massive operation around Mosul, the country's second largest city.

The Isil attack on Kirkuk, some 170km southeast of Mosul, lasted for two days and killed at least 80 people, mainly members of the Kurdish security forces, who assumed control of the city in 2014 as Iraqi forces crumbled before an Isil advance.

Human Rights Watch said Daquq residents believe Friday's attack was an airstrike because of the extent of the destruction and because planes could be heard overhead. The New York-based watchdog said at least 13 people were reported killed.

The US-led coalition and the Iraqi military, which are waging the offensive to drive Isil from Mosul, are the only parties known to be flying military aircraft over Iraq.

Col John Dorrian, a US military spokesman, said the coalition had "definitively determined" it did not conduct the airstrike that killed civilians in Daquq, and had shared its findings with the Iraqi government, which is carrying out its own investigation.

"The Coalition uses precision munitions and an exhaustive process to reduce the possibility of civilian casualties and collateral damage because the preservation of civilian life is (of) paramount importance to us," Col Dorrian said.

Iraqi Brig Gen Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Military Command, declined to say whether Iraqi or coalition planes were flying in the area at the time.

As in Kirkuk, Isil launched an attack on the western Iraqi town of Rutba, hundreds of kilometres from Mosul, on Sunday. Brig Gen Rasool said the situation there "is completely under control" and Isil militants have no presence inside the town.

But Col Dorrian said: "Iraqi forces continue to attack the enemy with coalition air support" in Rutba and that "operations are ongoing". He said coalition airstrikes destroyed five Isil vehicles and killed a "significant" number of militants.

The Isil-run Aamaq news agency posted a video online that it said showed fighters attacking a military position north of Rutba. It said several groups of fighters had infiltrated the town, setting off two car bombs, while other militants attacked the perimeter. Those claims could not be independently confirmed.

In Baghdad, a series of small bombings killed 11 people and wounded another 35, according to police and hospital officials.

Irish Independent

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