Units clear Mo­sul build­ings af­ter at­tacks Sniper du­els play out from rooftops in res­i­den­tial ar­eas

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL - MO­SUL: Fight­ing has slowed Civil­ians forcibly moved

Iraqi spe­cial forces cleared build­ings yes­ter­day in neigh­bor­hoods they en­tered in eastern Mo­sul a day ear­lier, af­ter push­ing out Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in their drive to take back the city, as new images emerged of the bar­ri­ers the ex­trem­ist group mounted to ob­struct the troops’ ad­vance.

Fight­ing con­tin­ued in the morn­ing, with both sides fir­ing mor­tars and au­to­matic weapons on each other’s po­si­tions, while the Iraqi troops also re­sponded with ar­tillery. Clashes were most in­tense in the Al-Bakr neigh­bor­hood. Sniper du­els played out from rooftops in the mostly res­i­den­tial ar­eas, where the ma­jor­ity of build­ings are two sto­ries high.

“Daesh is in the city cen­ter and we must be very care­ful as our forces ad­vance,” said Maj Gen Sami Al-Aridi of the Iraqi spe­cial forces, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for the IS group. With more densely packed neigh­bor­hoods ahead, his forces will be chal­lenged to avoid both higher mil­i­tary and civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. As he spoke, dozens of civil­ians in the Tahrir and Za­hara dis­tricts emerged from their homes, some of them car­ry­ing white flags, and headed to­ward the troops to be evac­u­ated from the bat­tle­field. The Spe­cial Forces launched a two-pronged as­sault deeper into Mo­sul’s ur­ban cen­ter on Fri­day, un­leash­ing the most in­tense street bat­tles against IS mil­i­tants since the of­fen­sive to re­take the city be­gan nearly three weeks ago. At least seven spe­cial forces troops have been killed in the fight­ing.

More than 3,000 Iraqi troops took part in the as­sault un­der heavy US-led coali­tion air sup­port, but the pace of the fight also slowed as Iraqi forces moved from fight­ing in more ru­ral ar­eas with few civil­ians to the tight, nar­row streets of Mo­sul proper. At least seven sui­cide at­tack­ers in ex­plo­sives-laden ve­hi­cles at­tacked troops on Fri­day, five of whom were killed be­fore near­ing their tar­gets.

The op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months. Mov­ing from neigh­bor­hood to neigh­bor­hood in house-to-house bat­tles through war­rens of booby-trapped build­ings is time con­sum­ing and Iraq’s mil­i­tary has re­peat­edly opted for slower op­er­a­tions in an ef­fort to min­i­mize ca­su­al­ties.

Some 1 mil­lion civil­ians still re­main in the city, com­pli­cat­ing the ad­vance. IS mil­i­tants have driven thou­sands of res­i­dents deeper into the city’s built-up ar­eas to be used as hu­man shields, while hun­dreds of oth­ers have fled to­ward gov­ern­ment-con­trolled ter­ri­tory and thou­sands have headed west into Syria.

Yes­ter­day, re­cent satel­lite images emerged show­ing that the ex­trem­ists have set up for­mi­da­ble de­fenses de­signed to bog down ad­vanc­ing forces, in­clud­ing rows of con­crete bar­ri­cades, earth berms and rub­ble block­ing key routes lead­ing to the core of the city. The images taken Mon­day and made pub­lic by Strat­for, a pri­vate in­tel­li­gence firm based in Austin, Texas, also showed that IS fight­ers have cleared ter­rain and lev­eled build­ings around Mo­sul air­port and a nearby for­mer mil­i­tary base on the west bank of the Ti­gris. The de­fenses “will pose a sub­stan­tial tac­ti­cal chal­lenge” to ad­vanc­ing Iraqi troops as they make their way to­ward cen­tral Mo­sul, the firm said.

Mo­sul is the last ma­jor IS strong­hold in Iraq, and ex­pelling the mil­i­tant group from the city would be a ma­jor blow to the sur­vival of its self-styled “caliphate” that stretches into Syria. Iraqi forces have made un­even progress in clos­ing in on the city since the op­er­a­tion be­gan on Oct 17. Ad­vances have been slower from the south, with gov­ern­ment troops still some 20 miles away. Kur­dish fight­ers and Iraqi army units are de­ployed to the north, while gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned Shi­ite mili­tias are sweep­ing in from the west to try to cut off any IS es­cape route.

Some ad­vances are be­ing made in the south, how­ever. On Satur­day, Iraqi forces as­saulted IS po­si­tions in the town of Ha­mam Al-Alil, which lies along the Ti­gris river about 15 kilo­me­ters from the south­ern­most parts of Mo­sul. Kur­dish tele­vi­sion chan­nel Ru­daw broad­cast live footage of Iraqi troops and ar­mored ve­hi­cles amass­ing out­side the city as an at­tack he­li­copter fired rock­ets into the city.

Truck­loads full of as many as 1,600 civil­ians may have been forcibly moved from Ha­mam Al-Alil to Tal Afar ear­lier this week and could be trans­ferred on­ward into Syria for likely use as hu­man shields, the of­fice of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights warned Fri­day. An­other 150 fam­i­lies from the town were moved to Mo­sul it­self, the UN said. Also in the south, Iraqi troops ap­proached the out­skirts of Ha­mam Al-Alil, but were fac­ing re­sis­tance from IS fight­ers, said Lt Col Hus­sein Ali of the Iraqi Army’s 15th divi­sion. He pre­dicted that Iraqi forces could take the town in a day or two.

Mean­while in Bagh­dad, bomb­ings across the city killed at least ten peo­ple, an­other grisly but not un­com­mon re­minder of IS’s long-run­ning cam­paign to desta­bi­lize the gov­ern­ment. Po­lice said some 37 peo­ple were also wounded in the blasts, which hit the Sheikh Omar, Abu Ghraib, Rashid and Obaidi ar­eas, across sec­tar­ian bound­aries. The dead­li­est ex­plo­sion hit a restau­rant pop­u­lar with me­chan­ics near auto re­pair shops in the Sheikh Omar area, killing three and wound­ing nine.

A med­i­cal of­fi­cial con­firmed the ca­su­alty fig­ures. Both of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity as they were not au­tho­rized to re­lease in­for­ma­tion. No group claimed im­me­di­ate re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks, but IS has pre­vi­ously taken credit for sim­i­lar at­tacks. — AP

KHAZIR RE­GION: A dis­placed Iraqi girl from Mo­sul walks hold­ing an empty pot af­ter the food fin­ished at a refugee camp in the Khazir re­gion be­tween Ar­bil and Mo­sul. — AFP

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