Iraqi troops face fierce resistance
Special forces fighting their way into Mosul
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