Warlord blown up in lift at his apartment
Iraqi forces start mission to retake ISIS stronghold
Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by US-led airstrikes, launched coordinated military operations early yesterday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from ISIS fighters got under way. But the battle is likely to be long and it was unclear when the troops would enter the city itself.
The fate of more than a million civilians trapped inside Mosul will also be critical as the battle intensifies in the days and weeks ahead amid concerns that ISIS could use them as human shields.
Convoys of Iraqi, Kurdish and US forces moved east of Mosul along the front line as airstrikes sent plumes of smoke into the air and heavy artillery rounds rumbled in the distance.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi announced the start of the operations on state television, launching the country’s toughest battle since American troops left nearly five years ago.
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014, and weeks later the head of the extremist group, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate from the pulpit of one of its mosques.
“These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity,” Al Abadi said, addressing the city’s residents. “God willing, we shall win.”
If successful, the liberation of Mosul would be the biggest blow yet to ISIS. Al Abadi pledged the fight for the city would lead to the liberation of all Iraqi territory from the militants this year.
Iraqi forces have been massing around Mosul in recent days, including elite special forces that are expected to lead the charge into the city, as well as Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters, federal police and state-sanctioned Shia militias.
South of Mosul, Iraqi military units are based at the sprawling Qayara air base, but to the city’s east, men are camped out in abandoned homes.
Kurdish forces are stationed to the north and east of Mosul, a mostly Sunni city that has been a centre of insurgent activity and antigovernment sentiment since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraqi officials have, though, warned that the Mosul operation has been rushed before a political agreement has been set for how the city will be governed after ISIS. A notorious warlord has been killed in a bombing in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, separatist officials said. The separatist Donetsk News Agency said that Arsen Pavlov, also known as Motorola, was killed on Sunday in Donetsk when a bomb exploded in an elevator in an apartment building where he was staying. He is one of several prominent warlords who have been killed in bombings in the past year which Ukraine watchers attribute to infighting among the separatists. Pavlov once admitted killing 15 prisoners of war. Separatist officials have blamed previous bombings on Ukrainian saboteurs operating in the rebelcontrolled areas. The conflict between separatists and Ukrainian government forces has been raging since April 2014, killing more than 9,600 people. Russian-born Pavlov, 33, worked in a car wash before he crossed the border and joined the separatists in 2014 and went on to become one of the most recognisable faces of the Donetsk separatist movements.
ON THE MOVE: A convoy drives towards a frontline in Khazer, about 30km east of Mosul yesterday
KILLED: Arsen Pavlov