Iraqi forces face a tricky ur­ban war

Is­lamic State putting up fight in Mo­sul

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske

GWER, IRAQ — Iraqi army Col. Omar Adl Ali and his men, af­ter fierce fight­ing against Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists, lis­tened as their two-way ra­dios buzzed with re­ports on the govern­ment of­fen­sive to re­take Mo­sul.

Ali and about 280 sol­diers from the 9th Divi­sion had fought in the Ham­daniya area south­east of the city, fac­ing off against Is­lamic State snipers, rocket at­tacks and sui­cide bombers as they re­cap­tured vil­lages. They rested at a makeshift com­mand post in an aban­doned cin­der block house.

“Ween­cir­cled the city and now there are some clashes,” Ali said Tues­day at the com­mand post in Gwer. “Is­lamic State fight­ers are re­sist­ing.”

It’s not clear how much that re­sis­tance will slow the of­fen­sive to re­take the Is­lamic State strong­hold of Mo­sul. Is­lamic State fight­ers con­quered the city two years ago like an army, stag­ing or­ga­nized at­tacks and com­man­deer­ing mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles.

But ad­vanc­ing Iraqi troops face an enemy that has mor­phed into more of a ter­ror­ist net­work, hid­ing among civil­ians and broad­cast­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion to wage a tricky ur­ban war.

The Iraqi bat­tle for Mo­sul is be­ing waged from the east and south by a force of 28,000, in­clud­ing 18,000 Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and 10,000 Kur­dish fight­ers, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials.

The Iraqis are push­ing north along High­way 1 from Qay­yarah air base, about 40 miles south of Mo­sul. In the east, the Kur­dish fight­ers, known as pesh­merga, have cap­tured a string of vil­lages around Ham­daniya, which is also known as Bakhdida and Qaraqosh.

More than 100 U.S. special op­er­a­tions per­son­nel are ad­vis­ing Iraqi and Kur­dish com­man­ders near the front Smoke rises from Is­lamic State po­si­tions af­ter a coali­tion airstrike Tues­day in Mo­sul, Iraq. lines, pro­vid­ing ad­vice and help­ing to direct airstrikes.

“It’s an ugly fight, but we have seen very good progress,” Pen­tagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told re­porters in Wash­ing­ton.

Davis said Kur­dish and Iraqi forces, which long have squab­bled over ter­ri­tory and oil prof­its, are co­op­er­at­ing in the as­sault, which be­gan Mon­day. The Kur­dish fight­ers have cap­tured Kur­dish­dom­i­nated towns but have agreed to al­low Iraqi se­cu­rity forces to ul­ti­mately take the lead into Mo­sul, a largely Sunni Mus­lim city with about 1 mil­lion peo­ple.

The Iraqi bat­tle plan aims to over­whelm the es­ti­mated 3,000 to 5,000 Is­lamic State fight­ers in Mo­sul, mak­ing them de­fend a 12-squaremile city at var­i­ous points from much larger ground forces sup­ported by U.S. air power and ar­tillery.

The Iraqis plan to leave an es­cape path west from Mo­sul for civil­ians flee­ing the city and Is­lamic State fight­ers ea­ger to desert the fight. Few peo­ple have left the city so far, of­fi­cials said.

Iraqi and coali­tion air­craft have dropped leaflets telling civil­ians to stay in their homes in Mo­sul both for safety and in hopes of pre- vent­ing a mas­sive out­flow of refugees. The out­num­bered mil­i­tants are not ex­pected to de­fend ev­ery neigh­bor­hood as the Iraqis ad­vance.

Coali­tion war­planes car­ried out four airstrikes Mon­day near Mo­sul against Is­lamic State build­ings, ve­hi­cles and bomb-mak­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Two other airstrikes hit tar­gets near Qay­yarah, an Iraqi air base that U.S. forces are us­ing as a lo­gis­tics hub to push weapons and sup­plies to the front lines.

Clashes con­tin­ued late Tues­day near Gwer in the vil­lage of Kani Harami, where Ali’s troops have been fight­ing.

AP

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