The de­struc­tion of Mo­sul

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FELIPE DANA

MO­SUL, Iraq — Hun­dreds of civil­ians fled Mo­sul’s Old City on Fri­day as Iraqi forces slowly squeezed the last pock­ets of re­sis­tance from the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group, and the U.N. warned that the “in­tense and con­cen­trated” fight­ing put in­no­cent lives in even greater dan­ger.

Peo­ple climbed over mounds of rub­ble and through nar­row al­leys as gun­shots and ex­plo­sions rang out nearby. The neigh­bor­hoods where gov­ern­ment forces are fight­ing have been un­der siege for months as gru­el­ing ur­ban war­fare drew out the op­er­a­tion to re­take Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city.

For the civil­ians held as hu­man shields by the ex­trem­ists, sup­plies have run low and drink­ing wa­ter is scarce, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents in­ter­viewed at screen­ing cen­ters and clin­ics.

The bat­tles came a day after Iraqi forces made sig­nif­i­cant gains against the mil­i­tants, and Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi de­clared an end to the group’s self-pro­claimed caliphate.

After a dawn push on Thurs­day, Iraqi forces re­took the sym­bolic site where the al-Nuri Mosque once stood. It was from the pul­pit of the 12th-cen­tury mosque, which the mil­i­tants blew up last week along with its fa­mous lean­ing minaret, that their leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi had pro­claimed the caliphate in 2014.

Dur­ing the evening, al-Abadi an­nounced that the full lib­er­a­tion of Mo­sul was near and that Iraq’s “brave forces will bring vic­tory.”

Lt. Gen. Ab­dul Wa­hab al-Saadi said that by Fri­day af­ter­noon, the spe­cial forces were within a half-mile of the Ti­gris River, which roughly di­vides Mo­sul into eastern and western halves.

The op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul, backed closely by the U.S.-led coali­tion, be­gan in Oc­to­ber, with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment ini­tially vow­ing the city would be lib­er­ated in 2016.

The Is­lamic State now holds a small patch of ter­ri­tory in Mo­sul’s Old City along the Ti­gris that mea­sures less than 1 square mile. The ter­rain is dense, and the U.N. es­ti­mates tens of thou­sands of civil­ians are trapped there.

“We don’t feel the end yet, to be hon­est. It’s still full on,” said Fred­eric Cus­sigh, head of the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees’ Irbil of­fice. About 1,400 peo­ple flee­ing the Old City had been regis­tered at screen­ing cen­ters in a two-day pe­riod, he added.

“Re­gard­less of the out­come of the bat­tle, the hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion will be crit­i­cal for a lot longer than we an­tic­i­pated,” Cus­sigh said.

The high num­bers of dis­placed civil­ians and the ex­ten­sive de­struc­tion will mean more peo­ple will have to stay in camps for longer pe­ri­ods, re­quir­ing food, wa­ter and other aid, he said. Cus­sigh ex­pects the hu­man­i­tar­ian fall­out from the fight for Mo­sul to last into 2018.

The clashes have dis­placed more than 850,000 peo­ple since the op­er­a­tion to re­take Mo­sul was launched, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion.

The Is­lamic State group’s me­dia arm, the Aa­maq news agency, re­ported fierce fight­ing on the out­skirts of Mo­sul and in the neigh­bor­hoods of Bab Ja­did, al-Mashahda and Bab al-Beidh, say­ing its fight­ers killed more than 50 Iraqi sol­diers.

Though Is­lamic State claims are of­ten ex­ag­ger­ated, the fact that the re­ports made no men­tion of the Old City was sig­nif­i­cant and could be in­ter­preted as in­di­rect con­fir­ma­tion of losses there.

An­other Is­lamic State me­dia out­let, the weekly al-Nabaa, on Thurs­day quoted an uniden­ti­fied mil­i­tant com­man­der as say­ing that the bat­tle for Mo­sul is a fight “ei­ther to achieve vic­tory or die as a mar­tyr.”

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani tweeted his con­grat­u­la­tions Fri­day to the city’s res­i­dents and the Iraqi peo­ple on the “breeze of free­dom in Mo­sul after three years of oc­cu­pa­tion, vi­o­lence and killing.”

The Is­lamic State also is un­der in­creased pres­sure in Syria, where its self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal of Raqqa is en­cir­cled by an ar­ray of forces, closely backed by the coali­tion. De­spite a se­ries of re­cent losses in both Iraq and Syria, al-Bagh­dadi’s fate re­mains un­known.

Ali Shi­razi, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Iran’s supreme leader in the pow­er­ful Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard, sug­gested that al-Bagh­dadi had been killed, Iran’s of­fi­cial Is­lamic Repub­lic News Agency re­ported. He did not elab­o­rate.

Ear­lier this month, Rus­sia said he may have been killed by one of its airstrikes in May on the out­skirts of Raqqa. Rus­sian of­fi­cials stressed, how­ever, that the in­for­ma­tion was still be­ing ver­i­fied. Rus­sia and Iran are staunch al­lies of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Maamoun Youssef and Amir Vah­dat of The As­so­ci­ated Press.


An Iraqi spe­cial forces sol­dier takes a po­si­tion near the de­stroyed al-Hadba minaret on Fri­day in the Old City of Mo­sul, Iraq, where the bat­tle to free the city of Is­lamic State fight­ers shrank to an area of less than 1 square mile.


Iraqi civil­ians flee through an al­ley as Iraqi spe­cial forces move to­ward Is­lamic State po­si­tions on Fri­day in the Old City of Mo­sul, Iraq.

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