Iraqi troops face re­sis­tance from IS in east­ern Mo­sul

Aerial sup­port from US-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MO­SUL: Iraqi troops faced stiff re­sis­tance yes­ter­day from Islamic State mil­i­tants as they pushed deeper into east­ern Mo­sul, backed by aerial sup­port from the US-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion, a se­nior mil­i­tary com­man­der said.

At dawn, troops moved into the Muharabeen and Ulama neigh­bor­hoods af­ter fully lib­er­at­ing the ad­ja­cent Tahrir neigh­bor­hood on Fri­day, said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi spe­cial forces. Al-Aridi said IS mil­i­tants were fight­ing back with snipers, rocket-pro­pelled grenades and mor­tar rounds.

Thick black col­umns of smoke were seen bil­low­ing from the two ar­eas, while dozens of civil­ians were seen flee­ing to gov­ern­ment-con­trolled ar­eas. Shortly be­fore noon, a sui­cide bomber emerged from a house in the Tahrir neigh­bor­hood and at­tacked se­cu­rity forces, wound­ing four troops. An­other sui­cide car bomber hit the troops in Aden neigh­bor­hood af­ter­noon, killing a sol­dier and wound­ing three oth­ers. At­tack on the vil­lage of Imam Gharbi Late on Fri­day, a group of IS mil­i­tants at­tacked the vil­lage of Imam Gharbi south of Mo­sul, con­trol­ling most of it for hours be­fore airstrikes from the US-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion were called in, an of­fi­cer said. The clashes and mul­ti­ple sui­cide bomb­ings left three po­lice­men dead, in­clud­ing an of­fi­cer, and four oth­ers wounded, he said. Nine IS fight­ers were killed, he added. The of­fi­cer spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity as he was not autho­rized to brief media. To the west of Mo­sul, gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned Shi­ite mili­tias took full con­trol of the Tal Afar mil­i­tary air­field Fri­day night, said Jaa­far alHus­seini, spokesman for the in­flu­en­tial Hezbol­lah Bri­gades. Al-Hus­seini said the clashes al­most de­stroyed the air­port and that it will be an im­por­tant launch­ing pad for the troops in their ad­vance.

The ex­trem­ist group cap­tured Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond largest city, in the sum­mer of 2014.

The of­fen­sive to re­take the city, which was launched on Oct. 17, is the biggest mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in Iraq since Amer­i­can troops left in 2011. If suc­cess­ful, the re­tak­ing of Mo­sul would be the strong­est blow dealt to IS’ self-styled caliphate stretch­ing into Syria. The Shi­ite mili­tias are lead­ing an as­sault to drive IS from Tal Afar, which had a ma­jor­ity Shi­ite pop­u­la­tion be­fore it fell to the mil­i­tants in the sum­mer of 2014, and to cut IS sup­ply lines link­ing Mo­sul to Syria.

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, more than 56,000 civil­ians have been forced from their homes since the op­er­a­tion be­gan out of nearly 1.5 mil­lion civil­ians liv­ing in and around Mo­sul.

In the heav­ily dam­aged town of Bashiqa, about 13 kilo­me­ters north­east of Mo­sul’s out­skirts, Chris­tians rang the bells of Saint Ge­orge’s church for the first time to cel­e­brate its lib­er­a­tion from IS, which was driven out ear­lier this month. Much of the town has been re­duced to rub­ble from ar­tillery strikes and air raids.

Parish­ioners, pesh­merga fight­ers and Kur­dish of­fi­cials sang hymns and played band mu­sic as they walked in pro­ces­sion into the church, which was heav­ily van­dal­ized by IS fight­ers. Men pre­pared a large cross to mount on the rooftop, re­plac­ing one de­stroyed by the ex­trem­ists.

“The first thing they did was break the cross, we want to re­place it and tell Daesh that the cross is still here and we are not leav­ing at all,” said Rev. Afram al-Khoury Benya­men, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym to re­fer to the group.

Bul­let holes marked the walls in­side the church court­yard, strewn with garbage and graf­fiti left by the ex­trem­ists, in­clud­ing some of their names. Much of the church’s in­side had been smashed, with rub­ble strewn across the ground and holy in­scrip­tions cov­ered with black paint. In an up­per level, pews had been pushed back to make room for cush­ions and car­pet be­neath a bro­ken win­dow that had been used as a sniper’s nest, marked out by scat­tered spent bul­let cas­ings. Bro­ken brass in­stru­ments and a torn bag­pipe from the church’s boy scout band lay scat­tered across the site, with pills and sy­ringes on the floor in one area. The church grave­yard was des­e­crated, with graves bro­ken into and tomb­stones smashed and painted over.

“It’s good they’re gone but how happy can we be - look at this mess,” said 22-year old Youssef Ragheed, a drum­mer from the band who had fled the town when IS con­trolled it, but re­turned for yes­ter­day’s cer­e­mony. —AP

BASHIQA, Iraq: Chris­tians march car­ry­ing a cross dur­ing a cer­e­mony in the Saint Ge­orge’s church yes­ter­day. —AP

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