Iraqis’ clashes in Mo­sul in­ten­sify

Thou­sands flee neigh­bor­hood

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SUSANNAH GE­ORGE

BAGH­DAD — Iraqi mil­i­ta­rized po­lice cap­tured a neigh­bor­hood on the western side of Mo­sul on Sun­day amid fierce clashes with Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, as thou­sands of peo­ple con­tin­ued to flee the bat­tle to govern­ment-con­trolled ar­eas, se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said.

Iraqi forces, backed by aerial sup­port from the U.S.-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion, launched a new push last week to drive Is­lamic State mil­i­tants from Mo­sul’s west, and have so far cap­tured the city’s in­ter­na­tional air­port and an ad­ja­cent mil­i­tary base. Iraqi au­thor­i­ties de­clared Mo­sul’s east­ern half “fully lib­er­ated” from the Sunni mil­i­tants in Jan­uary, three months af­ter launch­ing the op­er­a­tion to take back Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

At dawn Sun­day, the Fed­eral Po­lice Com­man­dos Di­vi­sion moved into the Ta­yaran neigh­bor­hood amid fierce clashes, Maj. Gen. Haider al-Ma­turi said, adding that the neigh­bor­hood “is now un­der their full con­trol.”

Al-Ma­turi said Is­lamic State mil­i­tants de­ployed at

least 10 sui­cide car bombs, but nine of them were blown up be­fore reach­ing their tar- gets. The 10th killed two po­lice­men and wounded five. Al-Ma­turi also said his forces ar­rested two mil­i­tants — an Iraqi and a for­eigner who speaks Rus­sian.

Else­where, up to 3,000 peo­ple fled from the Ma­mun neigh­bor­hood Sun­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to Iraqi spe­cial forces Brig. Gen. Salam Hashed, who over­sees a screen­ing cen­ter south of Mo­sul. Hashed said just over 2,500 peo­ple fled the pre­vi­ous day.

As Iraqi forces push deeper into western Mo­sul, the as­sault is bring­ing a surge of ca­su­al­ties — at least 30 Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and more than 200 civil­ians killed or wounded in the past three days. Iraq’s mil­i­tary does not re­lease of­fi­cial ca­su­alty re­ports, but medics at front­line clin­ics pro­vided fig­ures on con­di­tion of anonymity.

A num­ber of jour­nal­ists have also been in­jured in the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion. Ru­daw news or­ga­ni­za­tion said Shifa Gerdi, a pre­sen­ter and head of out­put for Ru­daw, was

killed in a bomb at­tack Satur­day. She was pre­sent­ing a pro­gram on the Mo­sul of­fen­sive. A state­ment of con­do­lences on the news agency’s web­site de­scribed her as one of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “most dar­ing jour­nal­ists.”

The sud­den spike in ca­su­alty num­bers mir­rors what played out in Mo­sul’s east as the fight moved from ru­ral vil­lages to dense ur­ban ar­eas. Front-line medic sta­tions that stood empty for the first days of the as­sault on Mo­sul’s west are now over­flow­ing. At one clinic Sun­day, the dead had to be moved to the ground to free up beds as more in­jured ar­rived.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.N. fig­ures, about 750,000 civil­ians are be­lieved to be trapped in their houses in western Mo­sul, one of sev­eral chal­lenges ex­pected to slow the ad­vance of the Iraqi troops. An­other com­pli­ca­tion is western Mo­sul’s old and nar­row streets, which will force Iraqi soldiers to leave the rel­a­tive safety of their ar­mored ve­hi­cles.

Western Mo­sul is the last

sig­nif­i­cant ur­ban area the Is­lamic State holds in Iraq. The city is split roughly in half by the Ti­gris River.

Mo­sul fell to the Is­lamic State in the sum­mer of 2014, along with parts of north­ern and western Iraq.

On Sun­day after­noon, Iraq’s spe­cial forces were still strug­gling to clear Mo­sul’s Ma­mun neigh­bor­hood, bring­ing them back to a phase of gru­el­ing ur­ban com­bat sim­i­lar to the fight for east­ern Mo­sul in early Novem­ber when mil­i­tary at­tri­tion rates spiked.

Iraqi forces at a base a few miles south of the front called in airstrikes to take out small units of two or three Is­lamic State fight­ers who re­peat­edly man­aged to halt ad­vanc­ing Iraqi con­voys.

The num­ber of car bombs tar­get­ing Iraqi forces in western Mo­sul has been fewer than what forces ex­pe­ri­enced in the east: ap­prox­i­mately four a day in the west com­pared with more than dozen a day in the east.

But the num­ber of armed Is­lamic State drones has bal­looned. In a sin­gle day, drones dropped more than 70 mu­ni­tions on Iraqi forces. The bombs mostly caused light in­juries, but they dis­rupted op­er­a­tions and mo­nop­o­lized

the fi­nite sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties avail­able from Iraq’s mil­i­tary and the U.S.-led coali­tion back­ing the Mo­sul fight.

Mor­tar fire on the edge of Ma­mun neigh­bor­hood re­peat­edly sent fam­i­lies scat­ter­ing for cover as they tried to flee Mo­sul’s city lim­its. The route civil­ians are us­ing to flee Mo­sul’s west on foot is still within mor­tar range of Is­lamic State fight­ers in­side the city and largely out in the open, leav­ing peo­ple more vul­ner­a­ble than those who fled the city’s east­ern side.

“You can see this road is con­tin­u­ally be­ing hit by mor­tars from [the Is­lamic State group],” said Lt. Gen. Ab­del Ghani al-Asadi a few miles from the front lines, point­ing to the clouds of dust kicked up by the mu­ni­tions on Mo­sul’s edge.

At the clinic south of Mo­sul, ca­su­al­ties ar­rived in waves: Humvees and pick­ups swerved in front of the row of sim­ple cots manned by a team of about a dozen doc­tors and medics.

Rahma Ghanim anx­iously looked up as doc­tors checked her for se­ri­ous wounds. The 19-year-old had been sep­a­rated from the rest of her fam­ily when Iraqi se­cu­rity forces evac­u­ated them from

the edge of Mo­sul.

Her un­cle had stepped on a road­side bomb. The blast killed him in­stantly, struck her in the back with mild shrap­nel wounds and took a fin­ger off her old­est brother’s hand.

A Humvee ar­rived with the rest of her fam­ily and she screamed with joy, pulling away from the doc­tors treat­ing her when she saw her fa­ther and aunt on the hood. The three em­braced in tears.

Soldiers be­gan open­ing the doors and six chil­dren climbed out, but in one seat held a small body wrapped in a col­or­ful blan­ket.

Her fa­ther, Ghanim Hus­sein, stag­gered to a sofa in shock, his face caked with dust and blood. “His name was Shukran,” he said, “he was my youngest, 4 years old.”

Soldiers moved the small body to the side of the road and sped off back to the front as quickly as they ar­rived.

“In­side Ma­mun, the streets are full of bod­ies,” Rawa Salem, Rahma’s cousin, said. “I saw 20 dead with my own eyes, many of them chil­dren.”

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