Iraq troops bat­tle IS in Mo­sul

UN says mil­i­tants killed scores, stock­pil­ing chem­i­cals

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MO­SUL:

Elite Iraqi troops bat­tled the Islamic State group in the streets of Mo­sul yes­ter­day, as the UN re­ported mil­i­tants had ex­e­cuted dozens of peo­ple in­side the city for al­leged “trea­son”. With IS also on the de­fen­sive in neigh­bor­ing Syria, US-backed forces pressed an ad­vance on the mil­i­tant bas­tion Raqqa af­ter a sand­storm eased. High winds in the desert sep­a­rat­ing the Syr­ian Kur­dish-Arab mili­tia al­liance from the ji­hadists’ Euphrates Val­ley strong­hold had slowed their ad­vance on Thurs­day as vis­i­bil­ity plum­meted.

Iraqi forces had also re­grouped af­ter meet­ing stronger than ex­pected re­sis­tance from IS on the east bank of the Ti­gris River run­ning through Mo­sul af­ter thrust­ing into the built-up area last week. Com­man­ders of Iraq’s elite Counter-Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice (CTS) said troops were ad­vanc­ing on two east­ern neigh­bor­hoods of the city. In a house near the front­line, Staff Lieu­tenant Colonel Mun­tad­har Salem clutched a ra­dio in one hand and a tablet com­puter in the other with a map show­ing re­cap­tured build­ings. As the troops waited for or­ders to push for­ward, in­com­ing mor­tar rounds shook the pink cur­tains on the win­dows of the house.

Later yes­ter­day, the fight­ing eased off, al­though CTS forces still oc­ca­sion­ally fired mor­tar rounds to­wards IS po­si­tions in east­ern Mo­sul’s Ar­ba­jiyah area. IS fight­ers re­port­edly shot dead more than 60 peo­ple this week and hung some of their bod­ies from poles in­side Mo­sul af­ter claim­ing they had col­lab­o­rated with Iraqi troops, the UN hu­man rights of­fice said yes­ter­day.

‘Trea­son, Col­lab­o­ra­tion’

“On Tues­day, ISIL (IS) re­port­edly shot and killed 40 civil­ians in Mo­sul city af­ter ac­cus­ing them of ‘trea­son and col­lab­o­ra­tion’,” rights of­fice spokes­woman Rav­ina Sham­dasani said in a state­ment in Geneva. And on Wed­nes­day, IS slaugh­tered an­other 20 peo­ple at the Gha­bat Mil­i­tary Base in north­ern Mo­sul af­ter ac­cus­ing them of “leak­ing in­for­ma­tion,” the state­ment said. She also said the mil­i­tants were re­port­edly stock­pil­ing am­mo­nia and sul­phur in civil­ian ar­eas, pos­si­bly for use as chem­i­cal weapons.

The bat­tle for Mo­sul is now in its fourth week, and while troops have en­tered the built-up area, there are weeks, if not months, of fight­ing ahead. “Our forces have be­gun the at­tack on Ar­ba­jiyah. The clashes are on­go­ing,” Salem said. The lat­est fight­ing came “af­ter a few days of quiet”, he said. An­other CTS of­fi­cer, Lieu­tenant Colonel Ali Hussein Fad­hel, said that the first row of build­ings in Ar­ba­jiyah had been seized. “We are within fir­ing range of Karkukli but the full at­tack has not yet started,” he said of an­other east­ern dis­trict.

Iraq be­gan the op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul on Oct 17, with fed­eral and Kur­dish regional forces clos­ing in on the city from three sides. Pro-gov­ern­ment Shi­ite paramil­i­taries later be­gan ad­vanc­ing on the town of Tal Afar, which com­mands the city’s west­ern ap­proaches, with the goal of cut­ting the ji­hadists off from ter­ri­tory they con­trol in Syria. The ad­vance up the Ti­gris Val­ley from the south has been slow­est. Troops on that front had the far­thest to cover and a string of mil­i­tant-held towns in their path. On Thurs­day, the bat­tle neared the re­mains of an­cient Nim­rud, some 30 km south of Mo­sul, rais­ing fears for the famed her­itage site al­ready rav­aged by ji­hadist ex­plo­sives and sledge­ham­mers.

Heavy Strikes

The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Mi­gra­tion said yes­ter­day more than 47,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed since the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion be­gan. In Syria, the US-backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) said their ad­vance on Raqa was back on track af­ter a sand­storm swept through the area on Thurs­day. “We seized con­trol of two new vil­lages yes­ter­day but we didn’t ad­vance as far as planned be­cause of the sand­storm,” SDF com­man­der Merkhas Kamishlo told AFP.

Fight­ing has fo­cused on the IS-held vil­lage of Al-Heisha, some 40 km north of Raqqa. An AFP cor­re­spon­dent re­ported heavy air strikes early Fri­day by the US-led coali­tion sup­port­ing the ad­vance. “Al-Heisha is to­tally be­sieged and overnight the US-led coali­tion hit four Daesh po­si­tions in­side the vil­lage, and de­stroyed a ve­hi­cle be­ing pre­pared for use as a bomb,” Kamishlo said, us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym for IS.

The SDF of­fen­sive, launched last week­end, has been push­ing south from ar­eas near the Turk­ish border to­wards Raqqa. Kamishlo said forces ad­vanc­ing south from the towns of Ain Issa and Su­luk were close to con­verg­ing at a po­si­tion around 30 km from Raqqa. The mil­i­tary in Rus­sia, which has sided with the Da­m­as­cus regime, said yes­ter­day it had ev­i­dence rebels in Syria’s be­sieged east­ern city of Aleppo used chem­i­cal weapons, a charge the op­po­si­tion de­nied. “Ex­perts from the Rus­sian de­fense min­istry have found un­ex­ploded ar­tillery am­mu­ni­tion be­long­ing to ter­ror­ists which con­tains toxic sub­stances,” the mil­i­tary said in a state­ment.

MO­SUL: Sol­diers from the Iraqi Spe­cial Forces 2nd divi­sion fire a mor­tar to­wards a po­si­tion of the Islamic State (IS) group yes­ter­day in the east­ern neigh­bor­hood of Samah.

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