NIGHT RAID TURNS DEADLY FOR IRAQI TROOPS
Hours after Mosul’s municipal complex was declared liberated by the country’s top military commanders and United States-led coalition officials, the wounded began pouring into a small frontline clinic just a few hundred metres away.
“Daesh had everything planned,” said Hamza Daoud of the federal police, who helped rush his injured comrades out of a battered Humvee and onto stretchers in the garden of an abandoned building.
“As we first advanced, there was no resistance (from the Islamic State group), but once we entered, they woke up,” Daoud said, explaining he was only able to get out by ramming through a makeshift roadblock.
“We were stuck there, nothing could reach us. I barely escaped. The snipers hit my car twice but I never touched the brakes once.”
Iraqi forces launched a daring nighttime raid in the early hours of Tuesday on the sprawling complex of municipal buildings the city’s west along the Tigris River.
Beginning just after midnight, Iraq’s emergency response division, an elite arm of the federal police, led the attack. Initially advancing some half a dozen blocks past the frontline in armoured vehicles, but breaching the complex itself on foot.
After facing very little resistance, regular federal police units followed and by 6.30am, an Iraqi flag had been hoisted above the tallest government building.
But by 11am, clashes inside the compound had intensified and commanders behind the front were getting frantic radio calls for help as hundreds of troops were trapped.
Sergeant Azam Ibrahim of the federal police was one of the first to enter the complex, but he and most of his unit fled as the counterattacks intensified.
“All of a sudden (IS fighters) began popping up everywhere. They emerged from nowhere.”
Snipers began to fire down on Iraqi forces from the buildings above and concealed suicide car bombs rammed their convoys.
Ibrahim said he was trapped in the complex for hours as IS fighters moved out from uncleared neighbourhoods and cut the routes his forces used to enter.
Commanders said the hasty advances were intended to give them the element of surprise, but the blunder showed how Iraqi forces continued to struggle with conducting methodical urban operations under political and military pressure for a speedy wrap up to the Mosul war.
As IS counterattacks on the municipality ballooned, Iraqi forces responded with artillery.
A pair of helicopters fired down onto the complex and airstrikes could be heard throughout the day. The sky above the municipality filled with black smoke.
Civilians trickled out of the area carrying their possessions in overstuffed suitcases.
“The situation is not good honestly, there is so much destruction,” Iman Issam said as she fled with her teenage daughter.
By afternoon, federal police units were being sent from a nearby base to try and free the hundreds of troops in the municipality buildings.
The frontline clinic was receiving casualties in waves.
As one Humvee arrived, two men were pulled from the backseats, their uniforms soaked with blood. Both were suffering from gunshot wounds.
One man had been shot in the leg, the other shot twice in his side, causing major bleeding.
The man shot in the side had been hit while trying to drag an injured friend to safety.
Medics bandaged his wounds and hooked him up to an intravenous drip, but within minutes, he died. Four doctors lifted him into a dark blue body bag and moved him to the ground. A fellow solider piled the man’s uniform and boots beside his body.
“The plan was stupid,” Daoud, the federal police soldier who brought two casualties to the clinic on Tuesday, said.
“I don’t know why we did that.”
A special forces member rests during a battle with Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq, on Tuesday.