Iraqi PM sig­nals start of op­er­a­tions to drive IS from Mo­sul

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Adam Schreck

IRBIL, IRAQ >> Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi an­nounced the start of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions to lib­er­ate the north­ern city of Mo­sul from Is­lamic State mil­i­tants on Mon­day, launch­ing the coun­try on its tough­est bat­tle since Amer­i­can troops left nearly five years ago.

State TV aired a brief state­ment in the early hours Mon­day an­nounc­ing the start of the widely an­tic­i­pated mil­i­tary of­fen­sive to drive IS out of Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

Broad­casts showed the prime min­is­ter, dressed in the uni­form of the elite coun­terter­ror­ism forces, speak­ing while flanked by se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

“These forces that are lib­er­at­ing you to­day, they have one goal in Mo­sul which is to get rid of Daesh and to se­cure your dig­nity. They are there for your sake,” he told the city’s res­i­dents, us­ing an al­ter­nate name for the mil­i­tant group. “God will­ing, we shall win.”

The thuds of spo­radic ar­tillery shelling rum­bled across the rolling Nin­eveh plains in the di­rec­tion of Mo­sul, wit­nesses said. State TV broad­cast pa­tri­otic mu­sic within min­utes of the an­nounce­ment.

The push to re­take Mo­sul will be the big­gest mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in Iraq since Amer­i­can troops left in 2011 and, if suc­cess­ful, the strong­est blow yet to the Is­lamic State. A state­ment on AlAbadi’s web­site pledged the fight for the city marked a new phase that would lead to the lib­er­a­tion of all Iraqi ter­ri­tory from the mil­i­tants this year.

Iraqi forces have been mass­ing around the city in re­cent days. They in­clude mem­bers of the elite spe­cial forces, who are ex­pected to lead the charge into the city it­self.

Mo­sul is home to more than a mil­lion civil­ians. The city fell to IS fight­ers dur­ing a light­ning charge in June 2014 that left nearly a third of Iraq in mil­i­tants’ hands and plunged the coun­try into its most se­vere cri­sis since the U.S.-led in­va­sion in 2003.

After seiz­ing Mo­sul, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi vis­ited the city to de­clare an Is­lamic caliphate that at one point cov­ered nearly a third of Iraq and Syria.

But since late last year, the mil­i­tants have suf­fered bat­tle­field losses in Iraq and their power in the coun­try has largely shrunk to Mo­sul and small towns in the coun­try’s north and west. Mo­sul is about 225 miles north­west of the cap­i­tal, Bagh­dad.

The op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul is ex­pected to be the most com­plex yet for Iraq’s mil­i­tary, which has been re­build­ing from its hu­mil­i­at­ing 2014 de­feat.

Iraqi forces be­gan mov­ing into Nin­eveh prov­ince to sur­round Mo­sul in July, when ground troops led by the coun­try’s elite spe­cial forces re­took Qa­yara air base south of the city. Thou­sands of Iraqi troops were de­ployed there ahead of the planned op­er­a­tion along with large num­bers of tanks, ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers and heavy ar­tillery.

The base is ringed by a series of trenches, sand berms and other for­ti­fi­ca­tions.

Iraqi troops were also po­si­tioned east of Mo­sul in the Khazer area, along with Kur­dish Pesh­merga forces, and to the north of the city near the Mo­sul Dam and Bashiqa ar­eas.

Be­fore the prime min­is­ter’s an­nounce­ment, Brig. Gen Haider Fad­hil told The Associated Press in an in­ter­view that more than 25,000 troops, in­clud­ing para­mil­i­tary forces made up of Sunni tribal fight­ers and Shi­ite mili­tias, will take part in the of­fen­sive that will be launched from five di­rec­tions around the city.

In ad­di­tion to car­ry­ing out airstrikes, the U.S.-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion will also of­fer ar­tillery fire, he added. Amer­i­can troops are pro­vid­ing lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port to the op­er­a­tion.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. en­voy to the coali­tion against IS, said Abadi’s or­der called for “ma­jor op­er­a­tions” to free the city.

“God­speed to the heroic Iraqi forces, Kur­dish #Pesh­merga, and #Ninewa vol­un­teers. We are proud to stand with you in this his­toric op­er­a­tion,” he tweeted.

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