Iraqi forces gain ground in Mo­sul

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Spe­cial forces have re­cap­tured more of Mo­sul’s his­toric heart as they press the fi­nal stages of an as­sault to drive the Is­lamic State group from Iraq’s sec­ond city, the mil­i­tary said yesterday. More than eight months since the coun­try’s forces launched a gru­el­ing op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul, IS has gone from fully con­trol­ling the city to hold­ing a few neigh­bor­hoods on its western side. Counter-ter­ror­ism forces lib­er­ated the Makawi area of the Old City, the joint op­er­a­tions com­mand an­nounced yesterday, in a fur­ther blow at the heart of the ji­hadists’ cross-bor­der “caliphate”.

Iraqi forces have been clos­ing in on the Old City for months, but its nar­row streets and closely spaced build­ings com­bined with a large civil­ian pop­u­la­tion made for an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult fight. Se­cu­rity forces re­cap­tured a se­ries of nearby dis­tricts, corner­ing the ji­hadists, be­fore launch­ing an as­sault in­side the Old City on June 18. They have since made sig­nif­i­cant progress. On Satur­day, of­fi­cers an­nounced the re­cap­ture of a hos­pi­tal and its sur­round­ings north of the Old City, re­mov­ing a nearby but un­con­nected pocket of IS re­sis­tance.

In­te­rior min­istry forces re­cap­tured the Ibn Sina hos­pi­tal along with other med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties in­clud­ing a blood bank and a clinic, Staff Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Ab­du­lamir Yar­al­lah said in a state­ment. IS has oc­cu­pied sev­eral of Mo­sul’s hos­pi­tals dur­ing the bat­tle for the city. Some se­cu­rity per­son­nel have com­plained that re­stric­tions on us­ing heavy weapons against hos­pi­tals, in­tended to pro­tect the fa­cil­i­ties, have made op­er­a­tions riskier and more time-con­sum­ing.

‘Ad­vanc­ing on 3 sides’

Fed­eral po­lice chief Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Raed Shakir Jaw­dat said the area around the hos­pi­tal, Al-Shi­faa, had been com­pletely re­taken, lim­it­ing IS’s pres­ence in Mo­sul to the Old City. “Our forces are ad­vanc­ing from three sides and are pur­su­ing the ter­ror­ist groups in the few re­main­ing ar­eas of the Old City,” Jaw­dat said in a state­ment. On Thurs­day, Iraqi forces re­took the re­mains of the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in their great­est sym­bolic vic­tory since the bat­tle be­gan. IS chief Abu Bakr Al-Bagh­dadi gave a tri­umphal ser­mon at the mosque af­ter the ji­hadists cap­tured Mo­sul in 2014, call­ing on Mus­lims to obey him. The mosque thus be­came a sym­bol of Bagh­dadi’s rule and IS’s self-de­clared cross-bor­der “caliphate.”

The ji­hadists made sure that the Nuri mosque was not cap­tured in­tact, blow­ing it up along with its famed lean­ing minaret­known af­fec­tion­ately as “Al-Hadba” (The Hunch­back) - as Iraqi forces closed in. IS claimed on its Amaq pro­pa­ganda agency that the site was hit in a US air strike, but the US-led coali­tion said it was the ji­hadists who had “de­stroyed one of Mo­sul and Iraq’s great trea­sures”. Even though it lies in ru­ins, the mosque’s re­cap­ture has pro­vided a boost to Iraq’s forces and its govern­ment. Prime Min­is­ter Haider AlAbadi de­clared that the ji­hadists’ “caliphate” was com­ing to an end.

The fol­low­ing day, a se­nior Iraqi com­man­der said vic­tory in Mo­sul would be de­clared within the “next few days.” IS over­ran large ar­eas north and west of Bagh­dad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led coali­tion air strikes have since re­gained much of the ter­ri­tory they lost. The re­cap­ture of Mo­sul will not how­ever mark the end of the war against IS. The ji­hadist group still holds ter­ri­to­ries in both Iraq and neigh­bor­ing Syria, where it has been able to carry out at­tacks in govern­ment-held ar­eas. IS mil­i­tants and “lone wolf” at­tack­ers in­spired by the group’s ide­ol­ogy have also car­ried out mul­ti­ple op­er­a­tions over­seas. —AFP

MO­SUL: Smoke bil­lows in the back­ground be­hind the de­stroyed Al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mo­sul, af­ter the area was re­taken from Is­lamic State (IS) group fight­ers yesterday. — AFP

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