Iraqi troops face fierce re­sis­tance

Spe­cial forces fight­ing their way into Mo­sul

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske and Laura King

IRBIL, Iraq — Meet­ing fierce re­sis­tance from Is­lamic State fight­ers, Iraqi troops pushed their way into Mo­sul’s eastern dis­tricts Tues­day, com­man­ders said, mark­ing the start of a dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous new phase in the bat­tle to re­take the north­ern city.

The in­cur­sion by Iraqi spe­cial forces — act­ing as the tip of the spear in a U.S.backed of­fen­sive — marked the first pres­ence of govern­ment troops within the city lim­its dur­ing more than two years of harsh rule by the Sunni mil­i­tants of Is­lamic State.

“To­day we achieved a very im­por­tant vic­tory,” said Sabah Nu­man, a spokesman for the coun­tert­er­ror­ism forces that led the push into the city. “We are now break­ing the main de­fense lines” lead­ing to other quar­ters of Mo­sul, he said.

The drive deeper into the city from dis­tricts on the east bank of the Ti­gris River was to con­tinue in co­or­di­na­tion with other forces ap­proach­ing from the north and south, Nu­man said. A larger con­tin­gent of reg­u­lar troops from the Iraqi army’s 9th Di­vi­sion was be­hind the spe­cial forces, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

In the out­ly­ing district of Gog­jali, the elite troops seized the state tele­vi­sion building, an Iraqi gen­eral told news agen­cies. Be­fore sun­set, they raised the Iraqi flag in the district, ac­cord­ing to Nu­man.

Af­ter nearly a full day of fight­ing, Iraqi forces con­tin­ued to ad­vance to­ward the densely pop­u­lated Karama district, which Is­lamic State fight­ers were us­ing as a base to fight from be­hind makeshift blast walls. The mil­i­tants de­ployed at least three car bombs that were deto- Iraqi forces’ tanks ad­vance to­ward the vil­lage of Abu Shuway­hah, south of Mo­sul. nated be­fore they could kill or in­jure any Iraqi troops, Nu­man said.

As has been their prac­tice since the over­all of­fen­sive be­gan two weeks ago, Is­lamic State fight­ers sought to hold off the at­tack­ers by lac­ing struc­tures and roads with bombs. As else­where, Amer­i­can airstrikes were aid­ing the ad­vance of coali­tion troops, in­clud­ing Iraqi govern­ment forces, Kur­dish fight­ers, and tribal and Shi­ite mili­tias.

Mo­sul, once Iraq’s sec­ond­most pop­u­lous city, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 1.2 mil­lion, fell to Is­lamic State in 2014, and it has been the mil­i­tants’ main ur­ban strong­hold in the coun­try since then. Los­ing Mo­sul would rep­re­sent a ma­jor blow to the group — both mil­i­tar­ily and in terms of pres­tige.

Even though the U.S.backed at­tack­ers are now op­er­at­ing in­side the city proper, the ur­ban core of Mo­sul is still about 6 miles away.

Near the bat­tle lines on the city’s eastern edge, black smoke rose from fires set by the mil­i­tants in an at­tempt to shield their po­si­tions from airstrikes. Many civil­ians trapped by the fight­ing hud­dled in their homes, and tele­vi­sion footage showed white flags hung by res­i­dents from win­dows and bal­conies in an ef­fort to stave off strikes aimed at Is­lamic State fight­ers

For civil­ians, the fight­ing was a ter­ri­fy­ing or­deal.

Peo­ple liv­ing in the district of Al Quds, at the city’s eastern ap­proach, said heavy clashes had erupted at dawn, punc­tu­ated by loud ex­plo­sions. One told the Reuters news agency by phone that res­i­dents could see mil­i­tants us­ing ve­hi­cles and al­ley­ways for cover as they fired on Iraqi troops.

“We ad­vise peo­ple in Mo­sul to stay in their houses to be safe,” the com­man­der of the Iraqi coun­ter­error­ism forces said in a brief­ing car­ried on the Kur­dish tele­vi­sion chan­nel . The com­man­der, Talib Kanani, said mil­i­tants were us­ing civil­ians as shields.

Many peo­ple were anx­iously await­ing word of the fate of rel­a­tives caught near

AH­MAD AL-RUBAYE/GETTY-AFP

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