Mo­sul of­fen­sive launched, but bombs slow progress

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS -

BAGH­DAD (AP): IRAQI AND Kur­dish forces launched a long-awaited of­fen­sive yes­ter­day to drive the Is­lamic State (IS) group out of the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest city, Mo­sul, but the op­er­a­tion could take weeks, if not months, and many fear a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

Col­umns of ar­moured ve­hi­cles trun­dled down desert roads to­ward the city as US-led air strikes and heavy ar­tillery echoed across the Ninevah plains.

Kur­dish forces cap­tured a num­ber of small, largely un­pop­u­lated vil­lages to the east. But their progress was slowed by road­side bombs left be­hind by the mil­i­tants, and IS un­leashed a se­ries of sui­cide car and truck bomb at­tacks, one of which struck a Kur­dish tank. It was not im­me­di­ately clear if there were any ca­su­al­ties from that in­ci­dent or fight­ing else­where.

FEARS OF A HU­MAN­I­TAR­IAN CRI­SIS

Mo­sul, which fell to IS when the ex­trem­ists swept across much of north­ern and cen­tral Iraq in the sum­mer of 2014, is still home to a mil­lion peo­ple. Aid groups fear that the fight­ing could cause a mass ex­o­dus that would over­whelm nearby refugee camps.

The UN says the fight­ing could dis­place at least 200,000 peo­ple. Camps have been set up to re­ceive the dis­placed, but aid groups say there is only room for around 100,000. Aid of­fi­cials also fear that IS could use civil­ians as hu­man shields.

“Civil­ians who at­tempt to es­cape the city will have lit­tle choice but to take their lives into their own hands and pray that they are able to avoid snipers, land­mines, booby traps and other ex­plo­sives,” said Alek­san­dar Mi­luti­novic, the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee’s Iraq di­rec­tor.

COALI­TION DI­VI­SIONS

The Mo­sul of­fen­sive is the largest and most com­plex mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion launched in Iraq since US forces with­drew in 2011. It in­volves an es­ti­mated 25,000 troops from the army, the Kur­dish pesh­merga, Sunni tribal forces and Shi­ite mili­tias.

In the weeks lead­ing up to the launch of the of­fen­sive, Iraq and Tur­key be­came em­broiled in a spat over the pres­ence of some 500 Turk­ish troops near Mo­sul who have been train­ing anti-IS fight­ers. Bagh­dad has de­manded the Turk­ish troops with­draw, while Tur­key has in­sisted it play a role in the lib­er­a­tion of the city.

For now, the var­i­ous forces are work­ing to­gether, but that could be­come more dif­fi­cult as they close in on the city, and it re­mains un­clear ex­actly how Mo­sul will be gov­erned once IS is gone.

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