War’s toll in Mo­sul

In Mo­sul bat­tle, two fe­male mil­i­tants det­o­nate, killing sol­dier

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SUSANNAH GE­ORGE AND AN­DREA ROSA In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Felipe Dana of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

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.

AP/FELIPE DANA

AP/FELIPE DANA

Smoke rises over the Old City af­ter a strike as Iraqi forces ad­vance Mon­day against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Mo­sul, Iraq.

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