Iraq forces shell IS near Mo­sul; group urges airstrike probe

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Iraqi forces shelled Is­lamic State po­si­tions out­side Mo­sul on Mon­day as fight­ing to re­take the ex­trem­ist-held city en­tered its sec­ond week and a rights group urged a probe into a sus­pected airstrike that hit a mosque, killing over a dozen civil­ians.

The pur­ported airstrike in north­ern Iraq struck the women’s sec­tion of a Shi­ite mosque on Fri­day in the town of Daquq amid a large Is­lamic State as­sault on the nearby city of Kirkuk. That as­sault was meant to dis­tract the Iraqi forces and their al­lies from the mas­sive op­er­a­tion around Mo­sul, the coun­try’s sec­ond largest city.

Hu­man Rights Watch said Daquq’s res­i­dents be­lieve the at­tack was an airstrike be­cause of the ex­tent of the de­struc­tion and be­cause planes could be heard fly­ing over­head. The New York­based watch­dog said at least 13 peo­ple were re­ported killed.

The U.S.-led coali­tion and the Iraqi mil­i­tary, which are wag­ing the of­fen­sive to drive IS from Mo­sul, are the only par­ties known to be fly­ing mil­i­tary air­craft over Iraq.

Col. John Dor­rian, a U.S. mil­i­tary spokesman, said the coali­tion had “defini­tively de­ter­mined” that it did not con­duct the airstrike that killed civil­ians in Daquq, and had shared its find­ings with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment, which is car­ry­ing out its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The Coali­tion uses pre­ci­sion mu­ni­tions and an ex­haus­tive process to re­duce the pos­si­bil­ity of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and col­lat­eral dam­age be­cause the preser­va­tion of civil­ian life is (of) paramount im­por­tance to us,” Dor­rian said.

Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahya Ra­sool, the spokesman for the Joint Mil­i­tary Com­mand, con­firmed the Iraqi gov­ern­ment was in­ves­ti­gat-

ing the at­tack. He de­clined to say whether Iraqi or coali­tion planes were fly­ing in the area at the time of the ex­plo­sion.

The strike in Daquq, around 40 kilo­me­ters (25 miles) south of Kirkuk, took place as dozens of IS mil­i­tants at­tacked sev­eral gov­ern­ment and se­cu­rity com­pounds in and around the city of Kirkuk, some 170 kilo­me­ters (100 miles) south­east of Mo­sul. The as­sault lasted for two days and killed at least 80 peo­ple, mainly se­cu­rity forces.

IS launched a sim­i­lar at­tack on the western Iraqi town of Rutba, hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters (miles) away from Mo­sul, on Sun­day. Ra­sool said the sit­u­a­tion there “is com­pletely un­der con­trol,” and IS mil­i­tants have no pres­ence in­side the town.

Dor­rian, the coali­tion spokesman, said “Iraqi forces con­tinue to at­tack the en­emy with coali­tion air sup­port” in Rutba and that “op­er­a­tions are on­go­ing.”

He says coali­tion airstrikes have de­stroyed five Is­lamic State ve­hi­cles and killed a “sig­nif­i­cant” num­ber of mil­i­tants in the town, which is hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters (miles) from Mo­sul.

The IS-run Aa­maq news agency posted a video on­line that it said showed fight­ers at­tack­ing a mil­i­tary po­si­tion on Sun­day north of Rutba.

Over the past week, Iraqi and Kur­dish forces have been bat­tling IS in a belt of mostly un­in­hab­ited towns and vil­lages to the north, east and south of Mo­sul, push­ing to within 9 kilo­me­ters (5 ½ miles) of the city.

On Mon­day, Iraqi spe­cial forces be­gan shelling IS po­si­tions be­fore dawn near the town of Bartella, said Maj. Gen. Haider al-Obeidi. Bartella, a his­tor­i­cally Chris­tian town 15 kilo­me­ters (9 miles) to the east of Mo­sul, was re­taken by Iraqi spe­cial forces last week.

Shortly af­ter­ward, a con­voy of spe­cial forces ad­vanced to­ward the vil­lage of Tob Zawa, en­coun­ter­ing road­side bombs and trad­ing heavy fire with the mil­i­tants. Loud­speak­ers on the Humvees blared Iraqi pa­tri­otic mu­sic as they pushed to­ward the vil­lage.

The cam­paign to re­take Mo­sul comes af­ter months of plan­ning and in­volves more than 25,000 Iraqi troops, Kur­dish forces, Sunni tribal fight­ers and state­sanc­tioned Shi­ite mili­tias. It is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months, to drive IS out of Iraq’s sec­ond largest city, which is still home to more than a mil­lion peo­ple.

The mil­i­tants cap­tured Mo­sul in the sum­mer of 2014, when they swept across much of north­ern and western Iraq. IS has suf­fered a se­ries of set­backs over the past year, and Mo­sul is its last ma­jor ur­ban bas­tion in Iraq.

Pho­to­graph: AP

An uniden­ti­fied mi­grant car­ry­ing his lug­gage leaves a makeshift camp known as “the jun­gle” near Calais, north­ern France, to reg­is­ter at a pro­cess­ing cen­tre, yes­ter­day. French au­thor­i­ties say the clo­sure of the slum­like camp in Calais started yes­ter­day and will last ap­prox­i­ma­tively a week in what they de­scribe as a “hu­man­i­tar­ian” op­er­a­tion

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