Iraqi forces battle IS inside Mosul
BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces fought their way into Mosul yesterday, the military said, as a top commander declared the “true liberation” of the city from the Islamic State group had begun. Just over two weeks into the massive offensive to retake Mosul - IS’ last major stronghold in Iraq the army said its forces had managed to push within city limits. Troops had “entered the Judaidat Al-Mufti area, within the left bank of the city of Mosul,” the Joint Operations Command said in a statement. Mosul is split by the Tigris River, with the eastern half of the city known as the left bank. Judaidat al-Mufti is on the southeastern side of the city.
Artillery and air strikes pounded the city, still home to 1.5 million people, and residents of the eastern neighborhood of Al-Quds said the ultra-hardline militants had resorted to street fighting to try to hold the army back. Residents speaking to Reuters by telephone said they heard the sounds of heavy clashes since dawn. One inhabitant of Al-Quds said bullets were fizzing past and hitting the walls of houses, describing the explosions as “deafening and frightening”. Many people in the area have stayed indoors for the last two days. “We can see Daesh (Islamic State) fighters firing towards the Iraqi forces and moving in cars between the alleys of the neighborhood. It’s street fighting.”
One witness said he saw nine cars, laden with families and furniture, heading from the eastern half of the city to the west bank of the Tigris River to escape the encroaching frontline. Away from the eastern fringe of the city, however, traffic was relatively normal, markets were open, and Islamic State fighters were patrolling as usual.
Elite Iraqi forces had also recaptured the key village of Gogjali and taken control of a television station building belonging to a local affiliate of Iraqiya state TV on the eastern edge of the city.
Fighters from the US-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) had pushed into the area amid heavy fighting on the eastern front over the past two days. “Now is the beginning of the true liberation of the city of Mosul,” Staff General Taleb Sheghati Al-Kenani, the commander of the CTS, told Iraqiya from Gogjali.
Soldiers from Iraq’s 16th Division also retook a series of villages north of Mosul, according to the Joint Operations Command, while pro-government paramilitaries said they captured villages southwest of the city. Backed by air and ground support from a US-led coalition, tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters have been converging on Mosul. Since the offensive was launched on Oct 17, federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have retaken a series of villages as they advance on the city from the north, east and south. As his forces advanced, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi warned the jihadists they would have no place to run. “We will close in on (IS) from every place,” he said on state television on Monday, dressed in a camouflage uniform. “They don’t have an exit, they don’t have an escape, they can only surrender - they can die or they can surrender,” Abadi said. Some 4,000 to 7,000 militants are believed to be in and around Mosul, where IS chief Abu Bakr alBaghdadi declared a cross-border “caliphate” after the group seized control of large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria two years ago. For now the militants do have an escape route - to the west towards IS-controlled territory in neighboring Syria.
Paramilitary forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), an umbrella organization dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militia, launched an assault at the weekend to cut off that route. They have been advancing north, their sights set on the town of Tal Afar which commands the city’s western approaches. On the northern and eastern sides of Mosul, peshmerga forces from the autonomous Kurdish region have taken a series of villages and towns and consolidated their positions. — Agencies
To the south, federal forces, backed by coalition artillery units stationed in the main staging base of Qayyarah, have been pushing north. They have the most ground to cover and are still some distance from the southern limits of Mosul. Iraqi forces are expected to try to open safe corridors for the million-plus civilians still believed to be inside. — Agencies
QAYARA, Iraq: Displaced people stand on the back of a truck at a checkpoint near this town south of Mosul yesterday.