Iraqi forces dig in as Mosul bat­tle rages

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS -

IRAQI TROOPS on Sun­day for­ti­fied their po­si­tions in Mosul neigh­bour­hoods re­taken from the Is­lamic State (IS) group as their ad­vance to­wards the city cen­tre was slowed by sniper fire and sui­cide bomb­ings, as well as con­cern over the safety of civil­ians.

“The big­gest hin­drance to us is the civil­ians, whose pres­ence is slow­ing us down,” Ma­jor Gen­eral Sami alAridi of the spe­cial forces told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “We are sol­diers who are not trained to carry out hu­man­i­tar­ian tasks.”

A few hun­dred civil­ians emerged from rub­ble-strewn front-line neigh­bour­hoods on Sun­day. They in­cluded women and chil­dren, some of them car­ry­ing bags, small suit­cases or wav­ing white flags. Mosul is still home to more than one mil­lion peo­ple.

The govern­ment sent half-dozen trucks loaded with food aid into the re­cently lib­er­ated ar­eas. Chaos broke out in one neigh­bor­hood, where res­i­dents climbed on top of the trucks and be­gan help­ing them­selves.

“It’s hunger that makes peo­ple be­have like this,” said Mo­hammed Farouq, a 27-year-old res­i­dent. “Some fam­i­lies took many boxes, while oth­ers did not take any. This is un­fair.” Al-Aridi said his men were search­ing homes in ar­eas re­taken from IS, look­ing for mil­i­tants and ve­hi­cles rigged with ex­plo­sives. Troops in those ar­eas con­tinue to be hit by mor­tar rounds, sniper fire and sui­cide bombers, he said.

ROAD BLOCKS

In the newly lib­er­ated ar­eas, roads are blocked by car wrecks and sand­bags, and tanks are de­ployed on wider streets. Snipers on high build­ings watch for sui­cide bombers or other in­trud­ers. Bri­gade Gen­eral Haider Fad­hil said four civil­ians were killed and an­other four wounded when a sui­cide car bomb ex­ploded be­fore it could reach the troops it was tar­get­ing late Satur­day.

The troops laid siege on Sun­day to the Al-Zo­hour neigh­bour­hood, about eight kilo­me­tres (five miles) from the city cen­tre. The ar­rival of the troops at the neigh­bour­hood’s fringes prompted hun­dreds of civil­ians to emerge from their homes wav­ing white flags. The spe­cial forces later drove IS from two other neigh­bor­hoods.

The Iraqi mil­i­tary launched a cam­paign on Oc­to­ber 17 to re­take Mosul, Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city and the ex­trem­ist group’s last ma­jor ur­ban bas­tion in the coun­try. Most gains have been made by the spe­cial forces op­er­at­ing in the sec­tion of Mosul east of the Ti­gris river. Other forces are ad­vanc­ing on the city from dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, and the US-led coali­tion is pro­vid­ing air strikes and other sup­port.

IS cap­tured Mosul in the sum­mer of 2014 as part of a blitz that placed nearly a third of Iraq un­der their con­trol. Iraqi troops, fed­eral po­lice and al­lied Shi­ite and Sunni mili­tias have over the past year pushed IS mil­i­tants from most of the vast Sunni province of An­bar, west of Bagh­dad, and ar­eas to the north and east of the Iraqi cap­i­tal.

Army troops ar­rived on the out­skirts of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, to re­in­force state-sanc­tioned Shi­ite mili­tias, who have cap­tured the town’s air­port and are pre­par­ing to re­take the town, ac­cord­ing to two se­nior mili­tia of­fi­cials. They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rised to brief the me­dia.

Prior to its cap­ture by IS, Shi­ites con­sti­tuted the ma­jor­ity of Tal Afar’s es­ti­mated 200,000 res­i­dents.

AP

Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Units fight­ers talk on the ra­dio as they watch Is­lamic State po­si­tions in the air­port of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, Iraq, Sun­day, Novem­ber 20. Iraqi troops on Sun­day for­ti­fied their po­si­tions in Mosul neigh­bor­hoods re­taken from the Is­lamic State group as their ad­vance to­wards the city cen­tre was slowed by sniper fire and sui­cide bomb­ings, as well as con­cern over the safety of civil­ians.

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