Powers discuss Mosul as Iraq forces inch towards outskirts
Iraqi forces were inching to within striking distance of eastern Mosul yesterday as defense chiefs from the USled coalition met in Paris to review the offensive on the jihadist bastion. Paramilitary forces were also massing near the battlefield to open a western front they say will aim to retake the town of Tal Afar and cut off routes to neighboring Syria for Islamic State fighters escaping Mosul. Forces from the elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) retook areas close to the eastern outskirts of Mosul, IS’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
“On our front, we have advanced to within five or six kilometers of Mosul,” their commander, General Abdelghani AlAssadi said. “We must now coordinate with forces on other fronts to launch a coordinated” attack on Mosul, he said, speaking from the Christian town of Bartalla. Kurdish peshmerga forces are making gains on the northeastern front but federal forces advancing from the south have some way to go before reaching the outskirts of Mosul.
Meanwhile, thousands of men from the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary umbrella group dominated by Tehran-backed Shiite militias, were preparing for a push to the west.
The Hashed leadership has ordered “us to assume the mission of liberating the Tal Afar district,” Jawwad Al-Tulaibawi, spokesman for the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia, said. The Hashed’s mission will be to “cut off and prevent the escape of (IS) towards Syria and fully isolate Mosul from Syria,” Tulaibawi said. “We expect that it will be a difficult and fierce battle.”
Involvement of the Hashed in the Mosul operation has been a source of contention, especially in eventual fighting inside the mainly Sunni city. Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arab politicians have opposed its participation, as has Turkey, which has a military presence east of Mosul despite repeated demands by Baghdad for the forces to be withdrawn. Tensions have been rising between Baghdad and Ankara, whose foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, warned yesterday that his country would not hesitate to launch a ground operation.
“If there is a threat posed to Turkey, we are ready to use all our resources including a ground operation,” he told Turkish channel Kanal 24. Relations between the Hashed and the US-led coalition fighting IS are also tense, but the paramilitaries enjoy widespread support among members of Iraq’s Shiite majority. Senior Iraqi and US military officials have reported that IS leaders are already attempting to leave Mosul to reach the Syrian side of their “caliphate”. — AFP
PARIS: US Defense Secretary Ash Carter (center) and French Defense Minister JeanYves Le Drian greet Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne (right) upon arrival for a meeting by dozen members of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in Paris yesterday. — AP