Iraqis un­earth tun­nels, bomb fac­tory near Mo­sul

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Qas­sim Ab­dul-Zahra and Joseph Krauss

KHAZER, Iraq — Iraqi forces ex­plored a net­work of tun­nels and un­cov­ered a bomb- mak­ing fa­cil­ity Thurs­day in a vil­lage near Mo­sul that was re­cently re­taken from the Is­lamic State group, of­fer­ing a glimpse of the chal­lenge sol­diers will face as they move closer to the city.

Ten days into the of­fen­sive, the spe­cial forces are at least 4 miles east of the city and have faced stiff re­sis­tance, with mil­i­tants fir­ing mor­tars and ma­chine guns, and send­ing ar­mored sui­cide truck bombs trundling across the arid plains.

Once in­side the sparsely pop­u­lated vil­lages that ring Mo­sul, Iraqi forces must con­tend with booby traps and snipers. The for­ti­fi­ca­tions are ex­pected to grow even more daunt­ing once they en­ter Iraq’s sec­ond­largest city.

The Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS, cap­tured Mo­sul in a mat­ter of days in 2014, and have had more than two years to build up its de­fenses and root out any in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion. The op­er­a­tion to re­take the north­ern city is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months.

Iraqi forces ap­proach­ing Mo­sul from the south, mean­while, are 20 miles from the city, and the spe­cial forces to the east said they will not push ahead un­til the other forces are able to tighten the noose.

Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Na­jim al-Ja­bori said forces south of Mo­sul re­took the town of Staff al-Tut in the Ti­gris River val­ley on Wed­nes­day, and said lo­cal tribal and mili­tia forces have been de­ployed to pro­tect the gains while his troops re­group for their next ad­vance.

Spe­cial forces Brig. Gen. Haider Fad­hil in­sisted things An Iraqi coun­tert­er­ror­ism sol­dier in­spects an Is­lamic State tun­nel Thurs­day in Bartella, 12 miles east of Mo­sul. were on track. “The op­er­a­tion has not been stopped and is pro­ceed­ing as planned,” he said.

Dur­ing cleanup op­er­a­tions in the area of Tob Zawa, his men found a tire shop that had been con­verted into a fac­tory for mak­ing road­side bombs and at­tach­ing ar­mor to ve­hi­cles.

They also found a tun­nel equipped with fans and lights that ran from be­neath a mosque out to a road. Iraqi forces have found ex­ten­sive tun­nel­ing net­works in ar­eas re­taken from ISIS, which the mil­i­tants used to elude U.S.led coali­tion war­planes.

Many fear ISIS may re­sort to more bru­tal tac­tics as the forces con­verge on the city, which is home to more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple.

The U.N.’s pub­lic health agency said it has trained 90 Iraqi medics in “mass ca­su­alty man­age­ment,” with a spe­cial fo­cus on chem­i­cal at­tacks.

The ex­trem­ist group is be­lieved to have crude chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and Iraqi forces say they are pre­pared to en­counter them on the bat­tle­field.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said that of the 700,000 peo­ple ex­pected to flee Mo­sul, some 200,000 will re­quire emer­gency health ser­vices, in­clud­ing more than 90,000 chil­dren need­ing vac­ci­na­tions and 8,000 preg­nant women.

The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion said around 9,000 peo­ple have fled. It’s a rel­a­tively small num­ber, but un­til now, the bat­tles have taken place in small farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties that were mostly aban­doned.

The United Na­tions’ refugee agency is ship­ping tents, blan­kets and other aid from the United Arab Emi­rates to north­ern Iraq to help those af­fected by the mil­i­tary cam­paign.

Soli­man Mo­hamed Daud, a se­nior UNHCR sup­ply of­fi­cer, said that 7,000 units of the re­lief aid will be sent to north­ern Iraq.

The Mo­sul of­fen­sive is the largest Iraqi mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion since the 2003 U.S.-led in­va­sion, and in­volves more than 25,000 Iraqi sol­diers, fed­eral po­lice, Kur­dish forces, Sunni tribal fight­ers and state-sanc­tioned Shi­ite mili­tias.

It marks the first time that Iraq’s largely au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion has al­lowed fed­eral forces to op­er­ate in its ter­ri­tory since the over­throw of Sad­dam Hus­sein, but the two sides re­main di­vided over the bound­aries of the Kur­dish re­gion and the shar­ing of the coun­try’s oil wealth.

ALI AB­DUL HAS­SAN/AP

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