Shi­ite mili­tias join Mo­sul push; bombs rock Bagh­dad

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Qassim Ab­dul-Zahra and Brian Ro­han

IR­BIL, IRAQ >> Thou­sands of fight­ers flocked to join Iraq’s state-sanc­tioned, Iran-backed Shi­ite mili­tias on Sun­day, ad­vanc­ing to cut off Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists holed up near Mo­sul in north­ern Iraq while bombers killed at least 17 peo­ple in Shi­ite neigh­bor­hoods of Bagh­dad.

Mili­tia spokes­men said that some 5,000 fight­ers had joined their push to en­cir­cle from the west the coun­try’s se­cond-largest city of Mo­sul, the IS mil­i­tants’ last bas­tion in Iraq, which is linked by road to ter­ri­tory it holds in Syria.

Karim al-Nuri of the mili­tias’ um­brella group, known as the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Units, and Jaa­far al-Hus­seini, a spokesman for unit mem­ber the Hezbol­lah Brigades, said that a to­tal of some 15,000 Shi­ite fight­ers were now par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bat­tle.

The Iraqi mil­i­tary con­firmed the fig­ures, which, in­clud­ing army units, mil­i­ta­rized po­lice, spe­cial forces and Kur­dish fight­ers would bring the to­tal num­ber of anti-IS forces in the of­fen­sive to over 40,000.

The two-week-old of­fen­sive to drive IS from Mo­sul had been long-an­tic­i­pated, since the Sunni ex­trem­ists stormed into the city in 2014 and drove out a much larger Iraqi force, al­beit one that was de­mor­al­ized from ne­glect and cor­rup­tion.

Troops are now con­verg­ing on the city from all di­rec­tions, al­though most fight­ing is still tak­ing place in towns and vil­lages on Mo­sul’s out­skirts. The op­er­a­tion is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months.

The Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Units say they will not en­ter Mo­sul it­self and will in­stead fo­cus on re­tak­ing Tal Afar, a town to the west that had a Shi­ite ma­jor­ity be­fore it fell to IS in 2014. They ac­knowl­edge hav­ing help from Ira­nian mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers.

Iraqi forces mov­ing to­ward the city have made un­even progress since the of­fen­sive be­gan on Oct. 17. They are four miles from the edge of Mo­sul on the east­ern front, where Iraq’s spe­cial forces are lead­ing the charge. But ad­vances have been slower in the south, with gov­ern­ment forces still 20 miles from the city.

The U.S. mil­i­tary es­ti­mates IS has 3,000 to 5,000 fight­ers in­side Mo­sul and an­other 1,500-2,500 in the city’s outer de­fen­sive belt. The to­tal num­ber in­cludes around 1,000 for­eign fight­ers.

In the hours fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of Shi­ite re­in­force­ments, five ex­plo­sions rocked pre­dom­i­nantly Shi­ite neigh­bor­hoods of the cap­i­tal, Bagh­dad, killing at least 17 peo­ple and wound­ing over 60, po­lice said.

Po­lice of­fi­cials said the dead­li­est of the bomb­ings, a parked car bomb, hit a pop­u­lar fruit and veg­etable mar­ket near a school in the north­west­ern Hur­riyah area, killing at least 10 and wound­ing 34. Other at­tacks hit the north­ern Shaab neigh­bor­hood, as well as traders’ mar­kets in the Topchi and Zataria ar­eas as well as the poorer Sadr City dis­trict.

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