Aid work­ers ‘brace for the worst’ from Mo­sul bat­tle

Bad weather ap­pears to have lim­ited op­er­a­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

More than a mil­lion civil­ians in Mo­sul are in grave dan­ger and aid work­ers are “brac­ing for the worst”, a re­lief group said yes­ter­day, after Iraqi forces reached the ji­hadist-held city. Just over two weeks into the of­fen­sive to re­take the last Iraqi city un­der the con­trol of the Is­lamic State group, the coun­try’s forces have fought their way to the east­ern out­skirts of Mo­sul. But there were no signs yet of a ma­jor push in­side Mo­sul it­self and bad weather ap­peared to have lim­ited op­er­a­tions, while forces on other fronts were still some dis­tance from the city.

Gun­fire echoed across the vil­lage of Gog­jali on the east­ern edge of Mo­sul on Wed­nes­day as elite Iraqi forces worked to clear the area. Civil­ians emerged with tales of bru­tal­ity un­der IS. “They con­fis­cated my trac­tor and then threw me in jail for six days. They beat me and when I got out I couldn’t do my work any­more,” said Yusef Fariq. The 40-year-old farmer, speak­ing from his home in Gog­jali and sur­rounded by his mother and two sons, still had the long beard IS mil­i­tants forced him to grow. “They were killing us, al­ways ask­ing for money, we couldn’t go any­where. We went through hell,” his mother said. The Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil, one of the most ac­tive re­lief groups oper­at­ing in Iraq, warned that a longfeared hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis was closer than ever.

‘Ter­ri­fy­ing night­mare’

“We are now brac­ing our­selves for the worst. The lives of 1.2 mil­lion civil­ians are in grave dan­ger, and the fu­ture of all of Iraq is now in the bal­ance,” NRC Iraq di­rec­tor Wolf­gang Gress­mann said in a state­ment. “Peo­ple in and around Mo­sul have lived for al­most two and a half years in a re­lent­less, ter­ri­fy­ing night­mare. We are now all re­spon­si­ble to put an end to it,” Gress­mann said.

More than 20,000 peo­ple have al­ready fled to gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas since the of­fen­sive was launched on Oc­to­ber 17, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion. But civil­ians in­side Mo­sul-who ac­cord­ing to aid group Save The Chil­dren in­clude up to 600,000 chil­drenare trapped be­hind IS lines and the United Na­tions has said thou­sands are be­ing held for pos­si­ble use as hu­man shields.

In Gog­jali, fight­ers with Iraq’s elite Coun­terT­er­ror­ism Ser­vice (CTS) were screen­ing civil­ians for any re­main­ing mem­bers of IS. One gov­ern­ment fighter car­ried a black IS flag, say­ing: “We re­moved it and planted the Iraqi flag in­stead.” Backed by air and ground sup­port from a US-led coali­tion, Iraqi fed­eral forces and Kur­dish pesh­merga fight­ers are ad­vanc­ing on Mo­sul from the east, north and south.

Sol­diers push­ing down from the north have moved within two kilo­me­ters of Mo­sul, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say, while forces mov­ing from the south are still some dis­tance from the city. Para­mil­i­tary forces from the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Pop­u­lar Mo­bil­i­sa­tion), an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion dom­i­nated by Iran-backed Shi­ite mili­tia, also launched an as­sault at the week­end to cut off the ji­hadists’ es­cape route to Syria to the west of Mo­sul.

IS ra­dio re­veals tac­tics

IS is vastly out­num­bered in the bat­tle, with an es­ti­mated 4,000 to 7,000 ji­hadist fight­ers in Mo­sul and the sur­round­ing area. But the ji­hadists have put up stiff re­sis­tance with sui­cide bombers, mor­tars and small arms fire as Iraqi forces ad­vance. On the south­ern front, where Iraq’s elite Rapid Re­sponse Divi­sion is ad­vanc­ing to­wards the IS-held town of Ha­mam Al-Alil some 20 kilo­me­ters from Mo­sul, a cap­tured IS ra­dio pro­vided rare in­sight into how the ji­hadists op­er­ate.

An AFP jour­nal­ist em­bed­ded with Iraqi forces was present on Tues­day as they lis­tened to IS fight­ers plan over the ra­dio. “Abu Dhiyab, let the is­tish­hadi with you go,” a ji­hadist who was re­ferred to as Abu Al-Layl said over the cap­tured ra­dio, us­ing an Ara­bic word the ji­hadists use for sui­cide bombers. Abu Dhiyab replied: “I brought the is­tish­hadiy­een and left them be­hind the dirt berm. As soon as they (Iraqi forces) ad­vance, they will go out to them.”

A Rapid Re­sponse cap­tain or­dered two ve­hi­cles to ap­proach the berm to draw the ji­hadists out, but the sui­cide bombers were hit by air strikes be­fore that could hap­pen. After seiz­ing con­trol of large parts of Iraq and neigh­bor­ing Syria in mid-2014, IS de­clared a cross-bor­der “caliphate”, im­posed its harsh in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law and com­mit­ted wide­spread atroc­i­ties. IS has been los­ing ground steadily in Iraq since 2015 and the out­come of the Mo­sul bat­tle is in lit­tle doubt, but com­man­ders have warned it could last months. If the city is re­taken, only Raqa in Syria will re­main as the last ma­jor city un­der the ji­hadists’ con­trol. — AFP

—AFP

MO­SUL: Iraqi sol­diers pose with an Is­lamic State (IS) group flag as they hold a po­si­tion in the vil­lage of Gog­jali.

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