Iraqis slow advance to screen Mosul areas
BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops fired at positions held by the Islamic State group in and around the northern city of Mosul on Thursday but did not advance as they regrouped and cleared neighborhoods once occupied by the extremists, military officials said.
Troops are screening residents fleeing Mosul, searching for militants trying to sneak out among the more than 34,000 civilians fleeing to displacement camps and host communities in nearby provinces.
The offensive has also slowed as special forces push into more densely populated areas of eastern Mosul, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes because of the risk to civilians who have been told to stay in their homes.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported allegations against security forces of arbitrary detention, forced disappearances and ill-treatment of prisoners, including an account that up to six people were “extrajudicially executed” in late October over suspected ties to the Islamic State, also called ISIS.
The London- based rights organization said the alleged killings took place near the area of Shura and Qayara outside Mosul, and it urged the government to investigate.
“Men in Federal Police uniform have carried out multiple unlawful killings, apprehending and then deliberately killing in cold blood residents in villages south of Mosul,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty’s Beirut office.
“In some cases the residents were tortured before they were shot dead execution-style,” she said, adding that it was “crucial” for Iraqi authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
“Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi denied the report, calling it “incorrect information” and saying in a statement that ISIS fighters were the ones responsible for the killing of civilians.
Since the offensive to retake one of Iraq’s largest cities began Oct. 17, the Shiite-led government has tried to prevent revenge attacks against the mainly Sunni residents of Mosul and surrounding areas. State-sanctioned Shiite militias and Kurdish forces say they won’t enter the city, and the government has vowed to investigate any human rights violations and hold people accountable.
Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, the last major Islamic State holdout in Iraq. Kurdish peshmerga forces are holding a line north of the city, while Iraqi army and militarized police units approach from the south, and government- sanctioned Shiite militias are guarding western approaches.
Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led forces operating the air campaign against ISIS, said advancing troops and aircraft have destroyed some 70 tunnels the jihadis had been using to launch surprise attacks from inside densely populated areas.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, bombings killed 10 people and wounded 38 others.
Displaced Iraqis wait to be moved Thursday from a checkpoint 22 miles east of Mosul.