IS shows no sign of weak­en­ing as Mo­sul war en­ters 3rd month

Nearly 100,000 fled city for safety, food, med­i­cal help

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAGH­DAD:

Is­lamic State fight­ers have stepped up coun­ter­at­tacks on Iraqi forces in Mo­sul amid bad weather as the US-backed of­fen­sive to cap­ture their last ma­jor city strong­hold in Iraq en­ters its third month. With cloudy skies ham­per­ing coali­tion air surveil­lance, the mil­i­tants car­ried out at­tacks in three dis­tricts of east­ern Mo­sul, Al-Quds, Ta’mim and Al-Nur, over the past four days, res­i­dents and se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said yesterday. “We heard clashes and ex­plo­sions and then some­body shout­ing on the loud­speaker of the mosque ‘Al­lahu Ak­bar, Al­lahu Ak­bar, the Is­lamic State is stay­ing’,” said a Ta’mim res­i­dent.

The cam­paign that started on Oct. 17 has turned into the big­gest bat­tle in Iraq since the US-led in­va­sion that top­pled Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003. The hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion of the be­sieged pop­u­la­tion is caus­ing alarm amid re­ports of food, wa­ter and fuel short­ages, while the fight­ing is mak­ing ac­cess to hos­pi­tals dif­fi­cult.

Nearly 100,000 peo­ple have fled the city, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion. More than 100,000 Iraqi sol­diers, Kur­dish fight­ers and Ira­nian-backed Shi’ite vol­un­teers are tak­ing part in the of­fen­sive. The lat­ter are at­tack­ing the mil­i­tants sup­ply lines in a re­mote and semi-desert area west of Mo­sul to avoid fan­ning sec­tar­ian ten­sions with the city’s Sunni pop­u­la­tion. The Iraqi mil­i­tary es­ti­mate the num­ber of mil­i­tants in the city at 5,000 to 6,000. They are dug in amid the city’s re­main­ing pop­u­la­tion of about one mil­lion, mov­ing through tun­nels and us­ing sui­cide car bombs, sharp­shoot­ers and mor­tar fire to slow the ad­vance of the Iraqi forces.

A mainly west­ern coali­tion is pro­vid­ing air and ground sup­port to the of­fen­sive, led by the US with more than 5,000 troops de­ployed in Iraq. The fall of Mo­sul would mark the de­feat of the ul­tra-hard­line Sunni group in the Iraqi half of the caliphate that also ex­tends over parts of Syria.

The city is by far the largest seized when they over­ran about a third of Iraq in 2014 and is the place where their leader, Abu Bakr Al-Bagh­dadi, de­clared his theo­cratic dic­ta­tor­ship.

At the cur­rent pace of ad­vance, the of­fen­sive is likely to ex­tend into next year, beyond the ini­tial fore­cast of Prime Min­is­ter Haider Al-Abadi who pledged to take the city in 2016. The US-trained Counter Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice, which is spear­head­ing the fight­ing in­side the city, has so far taken about half of its east­ern side. Mo­sul is di­vided in two parts by the Tigris River that runs through its cen­tre.

Four of the city’s five bridges have been de­stroyed to ham­per the move­ment of the mil­i­tants and their abil­ity to bring car bombs and weapons from the west­ern side. The fifth was also hit, but only at its edges, only al­low­ing pedes­tri­ans to cross. Iraqi forces are hold­ing off us­ing field ar­tillery and air bom­bard­ments to avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, hop­ing to wear down the mil­i­tants’ re­sis­tance, de­plet­ing their num­bers and their stock of car-bombs, two an­a­lysts in Bagh­dad said. “It is a mat­ter of time be­fore Daesh are de­feated in­side Mo­sul,” said Ih­san Al-Sham­mari, who heads the Iraqi Cen­tre for Po­lit­i­cal Thought think-tank. — Reuters

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