Fighting spikes as Iraqis drive deeper into Mosul
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.
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.