Fight­ing spikes as Iraqis drive deeper into Mo­sul

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION & WORLD - By Qas­sim Ab­dul-Zahra and Su­san­nah Ge­orge

MO­SUL, Iraq — Iraqi spe­cial forces launched a two- pronged as­sault deeper into Mo­sul’s ur­ban cen­ter Fri­day, un­leash­ing the most in­tense street bat­tles against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants since the of­fen­sive be­gan three weeks ago.

Smoke rose across east­ern neigh­bor­hoods of one of Iraq’s largest cities as heavy fight­ing con­tin­ued af­ter sun­down, with ex­plo­sions and ma­chine gun fire echo­ing in the streets as mosques called for evening prayer.

More than 3,000 Iraqi troops took part in the as­sault un­der heavy U.S.led coali­tion air sup­port, but the pace of the fight also slowed as Iraqi forces moved from fight­ing in more ru­ral ar­eas with few civil­ians to the tight, nar­row streets of Mo­sul proper. Sniper fire stalled the ad­vance, as com­man­ders called in airstrikes or ar­tillery sup­port af­ter com­ing un­der fire.

As the op­er­a­tion be­gan, col­umns of ar­mored ve­hi­cles wound through the desert to open the new front, push­ing through dirt berms and draw­ing heavy fire as they closed in on the mid­dle-class Tahrir and Za­hara dis­tricts. The area was once named af­ter for­mer Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein.

Seven sui­cide at­tack­ers in ex­plo­sives-laden ve­hi­cles bar­reled to­ward the troops, with two get­ting through and det­o­nat­ing their charges, Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Tim­imi said. The oth­ers were de­stroyed, in­clud­ing a bull­dozer that was hit by an airstrike from the U.S.-led coali­tion sup­port­ing the of­fen­sive.

At least seven spe­cial forces troops were killed and an of­fi­cer and three sol­diers were wounded, said an Iraqi mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not per­mit­ted to brief re­porters.

“The op­er­a­tion is go­ing well, but it’s slow. These kinds of ad­vances are al­ways slow,” said Iraqi spe­cial forces Cpt. Ma­lik Hameed, as Is­lamic State fight­ers could be seen run- ning in the dis­tance to re­po­si­tion. “If we tried to go any faster, we­would­take even more in­juries.”

An Iraqi tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist trav­el­ing in a Humvee was wounded in one of the sui­cide car bomb at­tacks.

The push be­gan as dawn broke with ar­tillery and mor­tar strikes on the Aden, Tahrir, and Quds dis­tricts, west of the spe­cial forces’ footholds in the Gog­jali and Karama neigh­bor­hoods, al­Tim­imi said.

On the heels of the spe­cial forces ad­vances, the Iraqi army’s ninth divi­sion moved into the east­ern In­ti­sar neigh­bor­hood, said an of­fi­cer from the unit who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak to the me­dia.

The op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul is ex­pected to take weeks if not months. Mov­ing from neigh­bor­hood to neigh­bor­hood in house-to­house bat­tles through dense war­rens of booby­trapped build­ings is time con­sum­ing and Iraq’s mil­i­tary has opted for slower op­er­a­tions in an effort to min­i­mize ca­su­al­ties.

MARKO DROBNJAKOVIC/AP

Iraqi spe­cial forces sol­diers move in for­ma­tion Fri­day in an al­ley on the out­skirts of Mo­sul, Iraq, as they launch an at­tack deeper into the city cur­rently held by the Is­lamic State.

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