Thursday 22 March 2018

Iraqis launch push on last Isil stronghold in Mosul

Iraqi forces fire a missile toward Isil militants during a battle south of Mosul. Photo: Reuters
Iraqi forces fire a missile toward Isil militants during a battle south of Mosul. Photo: Reuters

Sara Elizabeth Williams

Iraqi forces have launched a ground offensive to dislodge Isil from its remaining stronghold in western Mosul and put an end to the jihadists' ambitions in the country.

Announcing the start of the campaign yesterday, Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister, asked Iraqi forces to "respect human rights" during the battle, after a series of videos emerged showing abuse by uniformed men.

US-backed Iraqi forces, including elite units and the federal police, snaked north through the outlying areas of western Mosul, with coalition air support. The assault was preceded by an air drop of millions of leaflets, warning residents that battle was imminent and urging jihadists to surrender "or face a fatal end".

Officials on the scene described a well planned campaign delivering early results, with units capturing the villages of Athbah and al-Lazzagah, both near Mosul airport, early in the day.

Federal police units led the charge on districts west of the Tigris river, working through several largely abandoned villages and reaching Zakrutiya, a hamlet 5km south of the airport, by the end of the day.

They claimed to have captured a power distribution station along the way and killed several jihadists, including snipers.

The campaign is expected to move north towards the crowded city centre, where fighters are thought to have entrenched themselves among booby-traps, improvised explosive devices and human shields.

Medical and humanitarian agencies estimate the total number of dead and wounded - civilian and military - since the start of the Mosul offensive in October at several thousand.

About 160,000 civilians have been displaced so far - and that figure could reach up to 400,000 as residents of western Mosul are cut off from food and fuel, said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq.

About 650,000 people are thought to be living there, and human rights groups have voiced concern that civilians, particularly children, could become trapped in a bloody battle.

Once Iraqi forces clear areas of fighters, they face the task of processing those left behind, which includes identifying Isil members and supporters.

Human-rights groups have accused Iraqi forces and paramilitary groups of meting out brutal, gratuitous violence during this process.

In a statement alleging abuses by the Kurdistan Regional Government's security forces, Human Rights Watch warned: "Legitimate security concerns do not give security forces licence to beat, manhandle, or use electric shocks on children."

Graphic videos have emerged of men in Iraqi security forces uniforms taunting, beating and even executing unidentified, unarmed people on the streets of Mosul. Calling the footage "deeply disturbing", the UN commissioner for human rights urged the Iraqi government to investigate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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