Iraq read­ies force to storm flash­point town near Mo­sul

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAGH­DAD:

Iraq is ready­ing a spe­cial force tasked with storm­ing Tal Afar, a bas­tion of Is­lamic State west of Mo­sul, in a way that would avoid re­venge killings against the town’s Sunni pop­u­la­tion. Cap­tur­ing or iso­lat­ing Tal Afar from Mo­sul is a key part of the USbacked of­fen­sive to take back Is­lamic State’s last major city strong­hold in Iraq, by al­low­ing the ground forces tak­ing part in the cam­paign to com­plete Mo­sul’s en­cir­clement. The army and po­lice forces plan­ning to storm Tal Afar will in­clude Sunni and Shi­ite Turk­mens, re­flect­ing the main mix of the town’s pop­u­la­tion, said Hisham Al-Hashimi, a Bagh­dad-based an­a­lyst who ad­vises the gov­ern­ment on Is­lamic State af­fairs. Tal Afar’s Shi­ite com­mu­nity fled af­ter Is­lamic State, a hard­line Sunni group, swept through the re­gion two years ago, declar­ing from Mo­sul a “caliphate” that also spanned parts of Syria.

The of­fen­sive to take Mo­sul started on Oct 17 with air and ground sup­port from a US-led coali­tion. The at­tack on Tal Afar has been so far ex­e­cuted by Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion, a coali­tion made up mainly of Ira­nian-trained Shi­ite para­mil­i­tary groups whose in­volve­ment in the Mo­sul of­fen­sive sparked fears of sec­tar­ian killings. The 3,500-strong force be­ing set up to storm Tal Afar will op­er­ate from an air­base just south of the city, said Hashimi. Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion, or Hashid Shaabi, will stay out­side the town, en­forc­ing a block­ade, he said. The Iraqi gov­ern­ment has been keen on al­ly­ing fears of sec­tar­ian killings in Tal Afar af­ter Tur­key threat­ened to in­ter­vene, cit­ing its his­toric ties to Iraq’s eth­nic Turk­mens.

Flee­ing Civil­ians

Thou­sands of civil­ians fled Tal Afar this week as Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion closed in. Sev­eral dozen fam­i­lies from the town also ar­rived in Mo­sul, said a city res­i­dent, ask­ing not to be iden­ti­fied as Is­lamic State is pun­ish­ing by death those caught com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the out­side world. Mo­sul is al­ready ringed to the north, south and east by Iraqi gov­ern­ment forces and Kur­dish pesh­merga forces. Iraq’s US-trained Counter Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice breached Is­lamic State de­fences in east Mo­sul at the end of Oc­to­ber. —Reuters

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