Iraqi forces ad­vance in east Mo­sul

Hun­dreds taken to nearby hos­pi­tals as fight­ing takes heavy civil­ian toll

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

IR­BIL, Iraq/BAGH­DAD: Iraqi forces pushed Daesh (ISIS) fight­ers back fur­ther in Mo­sul Tues­day in a re­newed ef­fort to seize the north­ern city and deal a de­ci­sive blow to the mil­i­tant group, though progress was slower in some dis­tricts, the army said.

Iraqi forces and their al­lies have cap­tured vil­lages and towns sur­round­ing Mo­sul and seized at least two-thirds of its east­ern dis­tricts, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say, push­ing right up to the east­ern bank of the Ti­gris River in re­cent days.

But the gov­ern­ment had ini­tially hoped to re­take Mo­sul by the end of 2016 and three months into the U.S.-backed cam­paign, the mil­i­tants still con­trol all the ter­ri­tory to the west of the Ti­gris that bi­sects the city from north to south.

Wounded civil­ians streamed into nearby hos­pi­tals and Iraqi forces blamed Daesh for shoot­ing at flee­ing res­i­dents and shelling pop­u­lated ar­eas af­ter los­ing con­trol of them.

United Na­tions hu­man­i­tar­ian spokesman Jens Laerke said nearly 700 peo­ple had been taken to hos­pi­tals in Kur­dish-con­trolled ar­eas out­side Mo­sul in the last week and more than 817 had re­quired hos­pi­tal treat­ment a week ear­lier. “Trauma ca­su­al­ties re­main ex­tremely high, par­tic­u­larly near front lines,” he told re­porters in Geneva.

Ad­vances in­side Mo­sul slowed in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber as troops en­gaged in tough ur­ban war­fare with the mil­i­tants, who are thought to num­ber sev­eral thou­sand in­side the city.

The mil­i­tants have fought back with sui­cide car bombs and snipers hid­den among the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. They have also blown up bridges cross­ing the Ti­gris to try to slow the Iraqi ad­vance, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say.

Elite forces in the city’s east and north­east have ad­vanced faster since the turn of the year thanks to new tac­tics and bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion, but there was stiff re­sis­tance in the south­east of Mo­sul, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said.

Lt. Col. Ab­bas al-Azawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi army’s 16th di­vi­sion, said Iraqi forces en­tered Hadba Tues­day, a large north­east­ern district, though it would likely take more than a day to cap­ture and Daesh was de­ploy­ing sui­cide bombers.

Elite Iraqi Counter Ter­ror­ism Ser­vice units en­cir­cled the nearby Sukkar district Mon­day and sought to re­cap­ture the strate­gic Mo­sul Univer­sity area.

The CTS and army units want to cap­ture all the east­ern bank of the Ti­gris so they can launch op­er­a­tions to re­take western Mo­sul.

An army state­ment and the U.S. coali­tion said Daesh had blown up sec­tions of two bridges link­ing east and west Mo­sul in a bid to ham­per cross­ings by Iraqi forces.

Mo­sul’s five bridges across the Ti­gris had al­ready been par­tially dam­aged by U.S.-led airstrikes to slow the mil­i­tants’ move­ment.

Coali­tion spokesman U.S. Air Force Col. John Dor­rian told

Iraqi forces pa­trol a street in Mo­sul next to the Al-Salam Hos­pi­tal in the Wi­h­dah neigh­bor­hood af­ter re­cap­tur­ing the area from Daesh.

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