Iraqi troops pushing on in Mosul
As fears grow of chemical weapons
Iraqi troops moved yesterday to retake another neighbourhood in the eastern sector of the northern city of Mosul but were facing stiff resistance from ISIS militants, according to a top Iraqi commander.
A new analysis, meanwhile, has found that there was high risk that ISIS would deploy chemical weapons against Mosul civilians or Iraqi troops fighting to retake the city. According to IHS Markit, the extremist group has used chemical weapons at least 71 times since its fighters swept across much of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Reached by telephone in Mosul, Brig Gen Haider Fadel, of the Iraqi special forces, said that ISIS fighters were targeting his forces with rockets and mortars as they slowly advanced in the densely populated Zohour neighbourhood.
“We are cautiously advancing. There are too many civilians still living there,” he said.
Iraqi troops began their siege of Zohour on Sunday as they fortified their positions in neighbourhoods they had already retaken in eastern Mosul. Suicide bombings, sniper fire and concerns over the safety of civilians – there are 1 million civilians still in Mosul – have combined to slow down progress in the campaign to liberate the city, which began last month.
Mosul, captured by ISIS in the summer of 2014, is Iraq’s second-largest city and the last major ISIS urban bastion in the country.
Most gains in the campaign so far have been made by the special forces operating east of the Tigris River. Other forces, including the Kurdish peshmerga troops and volunteer Sunni militiamen, are advancing on the city from different directions, and the US-led coalition is providing airstrikes and other support.
An airstrike by the US-led coalition on Monday destroyed a major bridge over the Tigris in the southern part of the city, a move that appears designed to limit ISIS’s capacity to reinforce or resupply fighters on the east bank of the Tigris, where most of the fighting is taking place.
According to the analysis by IHS Markit, a London-based intelligence analyst firm, Mosul served as a centre for chemical weapons production for ISIS.
However, experts believe ISIS moved the materials and experts to Syria ahead of the Iraqi offensive to free the city. The analysis concluded that chlorine and mustard agents are the most likely chemicals to be used by ISIS in the Mosul battle.
ISIS used chemical weapons 52 times in Syria and 19 times in the Mosul area since 2014, IHS Markit also said.