War’s toll in Mosul
In Mosul battle, two female militants detonate, killing soldier
A woman holds an injured girl as Iraqi forces continue their advance against Islamic State militants Monday in the Old City section of Mosul, Iraq.
MOSUL, Iraq — With the fight for Mosul in its final stage, Islamic State militants on Monday sent female suicide bombers hidden among fleeing civilians, and Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition unleashed airstrikes and artillery fire that set dozens of buildings ablaze.
At least one Iraqi soldier was killed and five were wounded Monday in two separate suicide attacks, the military said. On Sunday, a bomber in women’s clothing killed 14 people at a camp for displaced residents in Anbar province, a provincial official said. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
“These tactics don’t surprise me,” said Sgt. Ahmed Fadil, who patrolled Mosul’s Old City just 50 yards from the front.
The militants “have nowhere to go. They’re trapped,” he said.
Monday’s two suicide bombings against Iraqi soldiers followed three other such attacks by women — some of them teenagers — in the previous two days, Sgt. Ali Abdullah Hussein said.
A soldier displayed the school ID card taken from the body of one of the bombers, showing her to be only 15.
“Most of the people who blew themselves up today are women,” said special forces Lt. Col. Salam Hussein. He added that seven women strapped with explosives approached the troops Monday, “but thank God, our units stopped [them].”
Government troops advancing through the Old City were using rougher tactics to clear the remaining pockets of Islamic State forces.
While shops have reopened and civilian traffic fills streets in retaken neighborhoods, thick black smoke continued to rise just a few miles away from Islamic State-held territory on the bank of the Tigris River that divides Iraq’s second-largest city. The area controlled by the militants is less than half a square mile.
Islamic State militants overran Mosul in 2014. The U.S.backed offensive to retake the city was launched in October and has proceeded slowly, even though Iraqi political and military officials had vowed to declare victory by the end of 2016.
Iraqi forces began their push to retake the Old City in mid-June.
Even though the militants are squeezed into smaller and smaller territory, the danger remains for units like Fadil’s.
When they heard cries from civilians just around the corner, he and his colleagues rushed their commanding officer to safety into a nearby home that already had been cleared. They yelled at the group of sobbing women and children to hurry past.
Fadil explained the reason for their caution.
“They cry and then — boom! They explode themselves,” he said. “The closer we get to victory, the more suicide bombers they will send.”
At one screening point, soldiers held civilians back at gunpoint, shouting at men and boys to strip to their underwear.
Hussein and a group of about a dozen men searched on foot Monday for more suicide bombers. An informant pointed out a house occupied by Islamic State fighters.
A soldier kicked in a door, shouted a warning and threw two grenades into the front room. A second soldier stuffed a rag into a plastic jug of gasoline, lit it and threw it inside.
“There are some suicide bombers who refuse to leave the houses, so we’re forced to deal with them with smoke and fire and hand grenades,” Hussein said, noting that the troops burned only the basement, not the house.
His men seized five suspected Islamic State fighters, binding their hands with electrical wire and blindfolding them with scraps of cloth. At least one of the five was arrested.
For most of the soldiers in Mosul, the final days of the grueling battle caps more than three years of fighting the militants.
Smoke rises over the Old City after a strike as Iraqi forces advance Monday against Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq.