As bat­tle for Mo­sul grinds on, Is­lamic State hits other ci­ties

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Su­san­nah Ge­orge

MO­SUL, Iraq — Iraq’s spe­cial forces worked Sun­day to clear neigh­bor­hoods on the eastern edge of Is­lamic State-held Mo­sul as bomb­ings launched by the ex­trem­ist group else­where in the coun­try killed at least 20 peo­ple.

The Mo­sul of­fen­sive has slowed in re­cent days as Iraqi forces have pushed into more densely pop­u­lated ar­eas, where they can­not rely as much on airstrikes and shelling be­cause of the risk posed to civil­ians, who have been told to stay in their homes.

“There are a lot of civil­ians and we are try­ing to pro­tect them,” said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Tim­imi. “This is one of the hard­est bat­tles that we’ve faced till now.”

Some civil­ians are flee­ing the com­bat zone, while Is­lamic State mil­i­tants are hold­ing others back for use as hu­man shields, mak­ing it harder for Iraqi com­man­ders at the front lines to get ap­proval for U.S.-led coali­tion air strikes. Iraq’s spe­cial forces are some of the coun­try’s best troops, but they still largely rely on air sup­port to clear ter­rain.

Iraqi forces first en­tered the eastern edge of the city on Tues­day. On Fri­day, forces be­gan push­ing into Mo­sul proper but so far have ad­vanced just over a mile into the city.

They could re­ceive a boost with Sun­day’s launch of a long-awaited of­fen­sive against the Is­lamic State­held city of Raqqa in north­ern Syria, the de facto cap­i­tal of the ex­trem­ist group’s self-styled caliphate. That op­er­a­tion, launched by U.S.-backed and Kur­dish-led Syr­ian forces, could force the ex­trem­ists to split their forces to de­fend the two largest ci­ties un­der their con­trol.

On the south­ern front of the Mo­sul bat­tle, Iraqi forces are still some 12 miles from the city cen­ter. The fight­ing is fo­cused on the town of Ha­mam al-Alil, where As­so­ci­ated Press journalists heard gun­fire and saw at­tack he­li­copters fir­ing on Is­lamic State po­si­tions.

Kur­dish pesh­merga fight­ers launched mor­tar rounds and fired heavy ar­tillery at the Is­lamic State-held town of Bashiqa, about 8 miles northeast of Mo­sul. The town, which is be­lieved to be largely empty ex­cept for Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, has been en­cir­cled by Kur­dish forces.

The ex­trem­ists cap­tured Mo­sul and sur­round­ing ar­eas in 2014, and have had plenty of time to dig trenches, block off roads and mine ap­proaches to the city.

“Daesh dug trenches that they filled with wa­ter and they have a lot of sui­cide at­tack­ers and car bombs,” said al-Tim­imi, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State.

The ex­trem­ists, mean­while, struck far from the front lines with a se­ries of bomb­ings.

The dead­li­est at­tack took place in the city of Sa­marra, 60 miles north of Bagh­dad, which is home to a ma­jor Shi­ite shrine. Pro­vin­cial spokesman Ali alHam­dani said the at­tacker set off a bomb-packed am­bu­lance in a parking lot near Shi­ite pil­grims be­fore det­o­nat­ing his ex­plo­sives vest.

The at­tack killed 11 peo­ple, in­clud­ing at least four Ira­ni­ans, and wounded up to 100 other peo­ple.

An­other sui­cide at­tacker rammed an ex­plo­sives-laden car into a busy check­point out­side the city of Tikrit, killing at least nine peo­ple while 25 others were wounded, al-Ham­dani said.

In a state­ment posted on a mil­i­tant web­site, Is­lamic State claimed all three bomb­ings.


Two ex­plo­sions killed 11 peo­ple and wounded up to 100 in Sa­marra, Iraq, on Sun­day.

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