Iraq’s spe­cial forces poised to en­ter Mo­sul

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND WORLD - By Qas­sim Ab­dul-Zahra

BAZWAYA, Iraq — Iraqi spe­cial forces stood poised to en­ter Mo­sul in an of­fen­sive to drive out Is­lamic State mil­i­tants af­ter sweep­ing into the last vil­lage on the city’s eastern edge Mon­day while fend­ing off sui­cide car bombs with­out los­ing a sol­dier.

Ar­mored ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing Abrams tanks, drew fire from mor­tars and small arms as they moved on the vil­lage of Bazwaya in an as­sault that be­gan at dawn, while ar­tillery and airstrikes hit Is­lamic State po­si­tions.

By evening, the fight­ing had stopped and units took up po­si­tions less than a mile from Mo­sul’s eastern bor­der and about 5 miles from the cen­ter, two weeks into the of­fen­sive to re­take Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

“We will en­ter the city of Mo­sul soon and lib­er­ate it,” said Brig. Gen. Haider Fad­hil of Iraq’s spe­cial forces. He added that over 20 mil­i­tants were killed while his forces suf­fered only one light in­jury from a fall.

Three sui­cide car bombers had tried to stop the ad­vance be­fore the army took con­trol of Bazwaya, but the troops de­stroyed them, he said. The army said an­other unit, its 9th Divi­sion, had moved to­ward Mo­sul and was about 3 miles from its eastern out­skirts, in the neigh­bor­hood of Gog­jali.

At one point, a Humvee packed with ex­plo­sives raced ahead and tried to ram the ap­proach­ing forces, but Iraqi troops opened fire, blow­ing it up. Plumes of smoke rose from Is­lamic State po­si­tions hit by ar­tillery and airstrikes that the army said came from the U.S.-led coali­tion.

State TV de­scribed the op­er­a­tion as a “bat­tle of honor” to lib­er­ate the city, which was cap­tured by the Is­lamic State from a su­pe­rior yet ne­glected Iraqi force in 2014.

Some res­i­dents hung white flags on build­ings and win­dows in a sign they would not re­sist gov­ern­ment troops, said Maj. Salam al-Obeidi, a mem­ber of the spe­cial forces op­er­a­tion in Bazwaya.

He said troops asked vil­lagers to stay in their homes as Iraqi forces moved through the streets — a pre­cau­tion against pos­si­ble sui­cide bombers.

As night fell, bro­ken glass in the streets glis­tened from the light of some burn­ing houses. The army es­ti­mates hun­dreds of fam­i­lies are in the vil­lage but few ven­tured out.

Since Oct. 17, Iraqi forces and their Kur­dish al­lies, Sunni tribes­men and Shi­ite mili­tias have been con­verg­ing on Mo­sul from all di­rec­tions. En­ter­ing Gog­jali could be the start of a new slog for the troops, as they’ll be forced to en­gage in dif­fi­cult, house-to-house fight­ing in more ur­ban ar­eas. The op­er­a­tion is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months.

Iraqi forces have made un­even progress. Ad­vances have been slower south of the city

The U.S. mil­i­tary es­ti­mates the Is­lamic State has 3,000 to 5,000 fight­ers in Mo­sul and an­other 1,500 to 2,500 in its outer de­fen­sive belt.

BULENT KILIC/GETTY-AFP

Iraqi coun­tert­er­ror­ism mem­bers carry an in­jured com­rade dur­ing clashes with the Is­lamic State near Bazwaya on Mon­day. Iraqi forces took con­trol of the vil­lage near Mo­sul.

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