Friday 6 December 2019

Iraqi forces reach Tigris and aim to deal Isil decisive blow

Iraqi forces patrol a street in Mosul next to Al-Salam hospital in the al-Wihdah neighbourhood after recapturing the area
Iraqi forces patrol a street in Mosul next to Al-Salam hospital in the al-Wihdah neighbourhood after recapturing the area

Stephen Kalin in Erbil

Iraqi forces pushed Isil fighters back farther in Mosul yesterday in a renewed effort to seize the northern city and deal a decisive blow to the militant group, though progress was slower in some districts, the army said.

Iraqi forces and their allies have captured villages and towns surrounding Mosul and seized at least two-thirds of its eastern districts, military officials said, pushing right up to the eastern bank of the Tigris river in recent days.

But the government had initially hoped to retake Mosul by the end of 2016 and three months into the US-backed campaign, the militants still control all the territory to the west of the Tigris that bisects the city from north to south.

Wounded civilians streamed into nearby hospitals and Iraqi forces blamed Isil for shooting at fleeing residents and shelling populated areas after losing control of them.

United Nations humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said nearly 700 people had been taken to hospitals in Kurdish-controlled areas outside Mosul in the last week and more than 817 had required hospital treatment a week earlier.

"Trauma casualties remain extremely high, particularly near front lines," he said to reporters in Geneva.

Recapturing Mosul after more than two years of Isil rule would probably spell the end of the Iraqi side of the group's self-declared caliphate, which spans Iraq and Syria.

But advances inside Mosul slowed in November and December as troops engaged in tough urban warfare with the jihadists, who are thought to number several thousand inside the city.

The militants have fought back with suicide car bombs and snipers hidden among the civilian population. They have also blown up bridges crossing the Tigris to try to slow the Iraqi advance, military officials said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in December it would now take another three months to retake Mosul, the largest city under Isil control in Iraq or Syria.

Elite forces in the city's east and northeast have advanced faster since the turn of the year thanks to new tactics and better co-ordination but there was stiff resistance in the southeast of Mosul, military officials said.

Lt-Colonel Abbas al-Azawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi army's 16th division, said Iraqi forces entered Hadba yesterday, a large northeastern district, though it would likely take more than a day to capture and Isil was deploying suicide bombers.

Irish Independent

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