Iraqi forces edge into Mo­sul, ur­ban war­fare lies ahead

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

BAZWAYA, IRAQ >> Iraq’s spe­cial forces fought their way into the out­skirts of Mo­sul on Tues­day, tak­ing its state tele­vi­sion building de­spite re­sis­tance by Is­lamic State group fight­ers that is only likely to stiffen when com­bat reaches the in­ner city.

It was the first time Iraqi troops have set foot in the city, Iraq’s sec­ond­largest, in more than two years. The ad­vance was the start of what is likely to be a gru­el­ing and slow op­er­a­tion for the forces as they fend off booby traps and am­bushes in dif­fi­cult, house-to-house fight­ing ex­pected to take weeks, if not months.

Troops en­tered Gog­jali, a neigh­bor­hood in­side Mo­sul’s city lim­its, and later the out­skirts of the more built-up Karama district, ac­cord­ing to Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi spe­cial forces. As the sun went down, a sand­storm blew in, re­duc­ing vis­i­bil­ity to only 100 yards and bring­ing the day’s com­bat to an end.

“Daesh is fight­ing back and have set up con­crete blast walls to block off the Karama neigh­bor­hood and our troops’ ad­vance,” al-Aridi said, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for the Is­lamic State group. He said bombs have been laid along the road into the city.

Later, al-Aridi said the troops had taken the state tele­vi­sion building, the only one in the prov­ince, and that heavy fight­ing broke out when they tried to con­tinue fur­ther into builtup ar­eas. An of­fi­cial ca­su­alty re­port was not given, but of­fi­cers men­tioned one dead and one wounded.

Mo­sul is the last ma­jor IS strong­hold in Iraq, the city from which it drove out a larger but de­mor­al­ized Iraqi army in 2014 and de­clared a “caliphate” that stretched into Syria. Its loss would be a ma­jor de­feat for the ji­hadis, but with the clos­est Iraqi troops still some 10 kilo­me­ters (six miles) from the city cen­ter, much ground re­mains to be cov­ered.

Tues­day’s bat­tle opened with Iraqi ar­tillery, tank and ma­chine gun fire on IS po­si­tions on the edge of Gog­jali, with the ex­trem­ists re­spond­ing with guided anti-tank mis­siles and small arms in an at­tempt to block the ad­vance. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coali­tion sup­port­ing the op­er­a­tion added to the fire hit­ting the district.

Col. John Dor­rian, spokesman for the U.S.-led coali­tion, said that aerial ob­ser­va­tions of the bat­tle­field showed that IS forces can no longer move in large num­bers.

“If Daesh stand and fight, they’re go­ing to be killed. There’s no ques­tion about that. If they run, they will ei­ther be cap­tured or killed. They are not go­ing to be al­lowed to es­cape,” he said in a tele­vised news con­fer­ence with Iraqi forces in Qa­yara, south of Mo­sul.

“When we see them come to­gether where there are sig­nif­i­cant num­bers we will strike them and kill them.”

Smoke could be seen ris­ing Tues­day from build­ings in Gog­jali, where shells and bombs had landed. IS-lit fires also sent plumes of dark smoke into the sky, in an at­tempt to ob­scure coali­tion war­planes’ view of the city.

In­side the vil­lage of Bazwaya, three miles east of Mo­sul, white flags hung from build­ings, put up a day ear­lier by res­i­dents ea­ger to show they would not re­sist the Iraqi forces’ ad­vance. Some res­i­dents stood out­side their homes, and chil­dren raised their hands with V-for-vic­tory signs.

The fam­i­lies, es­ti­mated to num­ber in the hun­dreds, will be evac­u­ated from the vil­lage to a camp for dis­placed per­sons, said Brig. Gen. Haider Fad­hil of the Iraqi spe­cial forces.

As the fight­ing raged on Mo­sul’s out­skirts, sev­eral of the newly dis­placed from Bazwaya could be seen car­ry­ing white flags as they drove a herd of some 150 sheep to­ward the camp.

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