Iraq bat­tles IS in western town, far from Mo­sul

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Joseph Krauss and Qas­sim Ab­dul-Zahra The As­so­ci­ated Press

BAGHDAD >> Iraqi forces bat­tled Is­lamic State fight­ers for a third day in a re­mote western town far from Mo­sul on Tuesday, but the U.S.led coali­tion in­sisted the lat­est in a se­ries of “spoiler at­tacks” had not forced it to di­vert re­sources from the fight to re­take Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi ac­knowl­edged that the mil­i­tants briefly seized the lo­cal gov­ern­ment head­quar­ters in the western town of Rutba, of­fer­ing new de­tails about the as­sault, which U.S. and Iraqi of­fi­cials have sought to down­play since it be­gan on Sun­day.

The White House en­voy to the U.S.-led coali­tion bat­tling IS in­sisted the mil­i­tants’ strat­egy was fail­ing, say­ing there had been “no di­ver­sion what­so­ever” of forces tak­ing part in the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion, which is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months.

“Daesh is try­ing to launch spoiler at­tacks,” Brett McGurk told re­porters at a Baghdad news con­fer­ence, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for IS. “This was ex­pected, it’s planned for, and we can ex­pect more of it.”

The com­plex as­sault on Rutba, lo­cated hun­dreds of miles south of Mo­sul, is just the lat­est IS at­tempt to try to di­vert Iraqi mil­i­tary re­sources from the fight for the mil­i­tants’ last ma­jor ur­ban bas­tion in Iraq. Last week the group launched a sim­i­lar at­tack in and around the north­ern city of Kirkuk, some 100 miles south­east of Mo­sul, ig­nit­ing gun bat­tles that lasted two days and killed at least 80 peo­ple.

McGurk said the mil­i­tant at­tacks on Rutba were car­ried out by “small, iso­lated teams” and were “eas­ily de­feat­able.” But he ac­knowl­edged there was still a “small Daesh pres­ence” in two neigh­bor­hoods.

The Iraqi mil­i­tary has in­sisted through­out the Rutba as­sault that the sit­u­a­tion is un­der con­trol, without of­fer­ing fur­ther de­tails.

Al-Abadi ac­knowl­edged Tuesday the mil­i­tants did have some ini­tial bat­tle­field suc­cesses at the start of the of­fen­sive Sun­day. “They took con­trol, it’s true, of the mu­nic­i­pal head­quar­ters,” the Iraqi prime min­is­ter told re­porters. But he said Iraqi se­cu­rity forces drove them out “within hours” and had re­gained con­trol of the town.

How­ever, Ra­jeh Barakat, an An­bar pro­vin­cial coun­cil­man who sits on the se­cu­rity com­mit­tee, said ear­lier Tuesday that IS fight­ers were still clash­ing with se­cu­rity forces in two south­ern neigh­bor­hoods of Rutba.

“We have re­ports say­ing the mil­i­tants killed some civil­ians and mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces, but we don’t know how many,” he said.

Near Mo­sul, fight­ing con­tin­ued Tuesday in a belt of vil­lages and towns to the north, east and south of the city. Maj. Gen. Haider Fad­hil said the Iraqi spe­cial forces had reached a vil­lage some four miles from the east­ern edge of Mo­sul.

Around 335 civil­ians were evac­u­ated to a refugee camp from the vil­lage of Tob Zawa, about 5½ miles from Mo­sul, which was re­taken by spe­cial forces on Mon­day, Fad­hil said. He said the civil­ians were re­lo­cated to pro­tect them from pos­si­ble IS shelling.

Among them was Ez­zat Sha­heen, who drove his car along with his wife and some of his 10 chil­dren. Oth­ers were left be­hind to take care of their land and cat­tle.

“To be hon­est, our life (un­der IS) was good,” the 55-year-old Sha­heen said. “There was jus­tice. There were clear prin­ci­ples — such as don’t shave your beard and pray in the mosque.”

“If you don’t vi­o­late them, no one will (bother) you,” added Sha­heen, who sported a full white beard.

Oth­ers who have es­caped the Mo­sul area have de­scribed harsh con­di­tions un­der mil­i­tant rule, say­ing the fight­ers im­posed re­li­gious and mil­i­tary train­ing on chil­dren and forced peo­ple to at­tend daily prayers.

Ab­del­jabar An­tar, who was among those evac­u­ated from Tob Zawa along with his wife and four chil­dren, said the IS mil­i­tants had in­cluded for­eign fight­ers “who spoke lan­guages I don’t know — Rus­sians, Pak­ista­nis.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A man walks in­side the Ba­harka camp for dis­placed per­sons on the out­skirts of Ir­bil, Iraq, on Tuesday. Nearby Mo­sul, the largest city con­trolled by the Is­lamic State group, is still home to more than 1 mil­lion civil­ians. The gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional aid groups fear that a sud­den mass ex­o­dus will over­whelm the few camps set up on its out­skirts.

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