Forces ad­vance near Mo­sul as IS at­tacks western town

Death tolls till not re­leased

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KHAZER, Iraq: Iraqi and Kur­dish forces ad­vanced on a town near Mo­sul yes­ter­day as part of an op­er­a­tion to re­take the north­ern city from the Is­lamic State group, which staged an as­sault in western Iraq that ap­peared to be an­other di­ver­sion­ary at­tack. The Kur­dish forces, known as pesh­merga, said they “cor­doned off” eight vil­lages north­east of Mo­sul and are now less than 9 kilo­me­ters from its out­skirts. They said the cor­doned off area mea­sures around 100 square kilo­me­ters and that they also se­cured a “sig­nif­i­cant stretch” of high­way.

The state­ment said eight car bombs were de­stroyed in the op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing three by US-led coali­tion air­craft, and “dozens” of mil­i­tants were killed. Those gains came after Iraqi and Kur­dish forces launched an of­fen­sive against the nearby town of Bashiqa. Maj Gen Haider Fad­hil, of Iraq’s spe­cial forces, said they had also taken part in the op­er­a­tion, and that the town was sur­rounded.

Over the last week, Iraqi and Kur­dish forces have been bat­tling IS in a belt of mostly un­in­hab­ited towns and vil­lages around Mo­sul, con­tend­ing with road­side bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs. In western Iraq, IS mil­i­tants stormed into the town of Rutba, un­leash­ing three suicide car bombs that were blown up be­fore hit­ting their tar­gets, ac­cord­ing to the spokesman for the Joint Mil­i­tary Com­mand, Brig Gen Yahya Ra­sool.

He said some mil­i­tants were killed, with­out giving an ex­act fig­ure, and de­clined to say whether any civil­ians or Iraqi forces were killed. He said the mil­i­tants did not seize any gov­ern­ment build­ings and that the sit­u­a­tion “is un­der con­trol.”The IS-run Aa­maq news agency had ear­lier said mil­i­tants stormed Rutba from sev­eral di­rec­tions. Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, the top US com­man­der in Iraq, con­firmed there had been a com­plex at­tack in Rutba and said he ex­pects more such at­tacks as the mil­i­tants try to di­vert at­ten­tion from Mo­sul.

IS car­ried out a large as­sault on the north­ern city of Kirkuk on Fri­day, in which more than 50 mil­i­tants stormed gov­ern­ment com­pounds and other tar­gets, set­ting off more than 24 hours of heavy fight­ing and killing at least 80 peo­ple, mainly se­cu­rity forces. The Mo­sul of­fen­sive in­volves more than 25,000 Iraqi ground forces as well as US-led coali­tion air­craft and ad­vis­ers. It is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months, to drive IS from Mo­sul, which is home to more than a mil­lion civil­ians.

Bashiqa is close to a mil­i­tary base of the same name where some 500 Turk­ish troops are train­ing Sunni and Kur­dish fight­ers for the Mo­sul of­fen­sive. The pres­ence of the Turk­ish troops has an­gered Iraq, which says it never gave them per­mis­sion to enter the coun­try and has called on them to with­draw. Turkey has re­fused, in­sist­ing that it play a role in re­tak­ing Mo­sul from IS. US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter has vis­ited both coun­tries in re­cent days, and ar­rived in the Kur­dish re­gional cap­i­tal, Ir­bil on Sun­day.

‘Agree­ment in prin­ci­ple’

After meet­ing with Turkey’s lead­ers, Carter had an­nounced an “agree­ment in prin­ci­ple” for Turkey to have a role in the op­er­a­tion. But Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider Al-Abadi told Carter on Satur­day that Mo­sul was an “Iraqi bat­tle.” The forces tak­ing part in the Mo­sul of­fen­sive in­clude Iraqi troops, the pesh­merga, Sunni tribal fight­ers and state-sanc­tioned Shi­ite mili­tias. Many fear the op­er­a­tion could heighten ten­sions be­tween Iraq’s dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, which are al­lied against IS but di­vided over a host of other is­sues, in­clud­ing the fate of ter­ri­to­ries near mostly Sunni Mo­sul that are claimed by the largely au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion and the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Carter praised the pesh­merga, say­ing they “fight ex­tremely well,” but also ac­knowl­edged that they had suf­fered ca­su­al­ties.

Brig Gen Hal­gord Hek­met, a spokesman for the Kur­dish forces, told re­porters that 25 of their troops have been killed since the bat­tle to re­take Mo­sul be­gan and a “large num­ber” had been wounded.

He said the pesh­merga have had good coali­tion air sup­port, but could use more ar­mored ve­hi­cles and road­side bomb de­tec­tors. Most of the fallen pesh­merga were rid­ing in reg­u­lar cars, he said. The UN agency for chil­dren mean­while ex­pressed con­cern over the more than 4,000 peo­ple it says have fled from ar­eas around Mo­sul since the op­er­a­tion be­gan. UNICEF’s Iraq rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Peter Hawkins, said that in at least one refugee camp the con­di­tions for chil­dren were “very, very poor.” He said UNICEF teams de­liv­ered wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and other sup­plies ex­pected to last seven days. — AP

KIRKUK: Kirkuk pro­vin­cial Gov­er­nor, Najm al-Din Karim (C), walks on Oc­to­ber 22, 2016 along­side po­lice and Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces as he vis­its the dam­aged sites where fight­ing against Is­lamic State (IS) ji­hadists took place in the cen­tre the Kur­dish-con­trolled city. — AFP

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