Iraqi forces battle to free ‘IS capital’
BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces have launched a campaign to retake Mosul, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State (IS), the prime minister said yesterday in what the US hailed as a “decisive moment” in the battle to crush the jihadists.
Up to 1.5 million civilians remain in the city, the United Nations said, voicing fears the vastly outnumbered militants could use them as human shields as they seek to repel the assault on its last major stronghold in the country.
“Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address, using an alternative name for the IS group.
Mosul fell to IS fighters two years ago. Its recapture would shatter the group’s claim to be running a “caliphate” and would all but end its presence in Iraq as a land-holding force.
That claim received another body blow on Sunday when Syrian rebels retook the town of Dabiq from the group.
The anti-IS alliance – including the US-led coalition, Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces – has recently been tightening the noose around Mosul, and the assault has long been predicted.
But they will have to fight their way through IS defences to reach the city. Some groups are still dozens of kilometres from Mosul.
When they get there, the fighting is expected to be fierce.
UN deputy secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief Stephen O’Brien said civilians were in real danger.
“I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million living in Mosul who may be impacted by military operations,” he said. – AFP