Iraqi forces bat­tle IS in­side Mo­sul

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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

— AP

QAYARA, Iraq: Dis­placed peo­ple stand on the back of a truck at a check­point near this town south of Mo­sul yes­ter­day.

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