‘In­tense’ fight­ing rages in Mo­sul as civil­ians flee Forces mak­ing progress to­wards Raqqa

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Elite Iraqi forces en­gaged in “in­tense” fight­ing with mil­i­tants in east­ern Mo­sul yes­ter­day, an of­fi­cer said, as civil­ians who had been trapped by the fight­ing sought to flee the city. Iraqi forces launched a mas­sive op­er­a­tion to re­take the coun­try’s sec­ond city from the Is­lamic State group on Oc­to­ber 17, and the Coun­terT­er­ror­ism Ser­vice (CTS) spe­cial forces have pushed the ji­hadists back from some Mo­sul neigh­bor­hoods. In neigh­bor­ing Syria, the USbacked Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) said they were mak­ing progress to­wards Raqqa, the other re­main­ing city in the cross-bor­der “caliphate” that IS de­clared two years be­fore.

But there are still weeks if not months of fight­ing ahead in Mo­sul, and Raqqa may take even longer, with the SDF say­ing it is still some 30 km from the city. “The fight­ing is in­tense this morn­ing. We’re try­ing to for­tify our po­si­tions in Ar­ba­jiyah be­fore con­tin­u­ing our at­tack into AlBakr,” said CTS Staff Lieu­tenant Colonel Mun­tad­har Salem, re­fer­ring to two Mo­sul ar­eas.

Salem later clar­i­fied that the aim was to sur­round Al-Bakr but not to as­sault it for now. Staff Lieu­tenant Colonel Ali Fad­hel also con­firmed that ob­jec­tive, say­ing: “We... are ad­vanc­ing to­wards Al-Bakr so that we can sur­round it.” “There were three car bombs com­ing out from Al-Bakr to­ward our po­si­tions that we spot­ted with our drone and hit with our tanks,” Salem said. The mil­i­tants are also us­ing drones for ob­ser­va­tion, one of which was shot down by CTS forces, Fad­hel said. The gun and mor­tar fire in the city less­ened in in­ten­sity as the day wore on, though there was still some sniper fire in the af­ter­noon.

Trapped for 10 Days

As fight­ing raged deeper in the city, civil­ians, some of them car­ry­ing white flags, walked to­ward its out­skirts, gath­er­ing near an Iraqi mil­i­tary truck that would take them out of the city to safety. In the Ar­ba­jiyah area, CTS es­corted a group of about two dozen civil­ians, some of them wounded, away from the front line. “We’ve been stuck for 10 days,” Luay Ab­delqader Mo­hammed, a res­i­dent of Ar­ba­jiyah, told AFP. “To­day, these guys came and we called out to them. We put up the white flag and they got us out,” Mo­hammed said, re­fer­ring to CTS forces. “Eight of my fam­ily mem­bers were wounded in the fight­ing, but (CTS) treated us here. I’m go­ing to try to get out and go to Baghdad, and we’ll only re­turn if the sit­u­a­tion here calms down,” he said.

More than 49,000 peo­ple have now been dis­placed since the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion be­gan, the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion said yes­ter­day. Aid work­ers have said that a mil­lion or more peo­ple could be dis­placed by the battle for Mo­sul, mean­ing that the worst may still be ahead. In neigh­bor­ing Syria, SDF forces have re­cap­tured vil­lages from IS as part of their ad­vance on Raqqa, a spokes­woman said.

They were near­ing the end of the first phase of the op­er­a­tion, the goal of which is be­sieg­ing IS in the city, Ji­han Sheikh Ahmed told AFP. “Yes­ter­day six vil­lages and a num­ber of farms and strate­gic hill­tops were lib­er­ated,” Ahmed said yes­ter­day. “We are now 30 kilo­me­ters from Raqqa,” she said. The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights mon­i­tor­ing group said that at least seven SDF fight­ers were killed and oth­ers wounded in an IS am­bush north of Raqqa on Thurs­day, but Ahmed de­nied that re­port. — AFP

HAS­SAN SHAM, Iraq: Dis­placed Iraqi men, who fled from Mo­sul, carry mat­tresses at a camp for in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple east of Mo­sul yes­ter­day. — AP

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