Iraqi forces at­tack ISIS pock­ets in Mo­sul

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY THOMAS GIB­BONS-NEFF AND MUSTAFA SALIM thomas.gib­bon­sneff@wash­

mo­sul, iraq — Iraqi forces, backed by heavy U.S.-led air- and ar­tillery strikes, be­gan a new of­fen­sive into the Is­lamic State’s fi­nal bas­tions in the city.

The op­er­a­tion, an­nounced Satur­day by Iraq’s Joint Op­er­a­tions Com­mand, comes af­ter Iraqi troops have cleared most of the western parts of Mo­sul, leav­ing a small pocket of Is­lamic State fight­ers spread across a hand­ful of neigh­bor­hoods along the western bank of the Ti­gris River.

The at­tack be­gan at dawn and in­volved sev­eral Iraqi units as­sault­ing across a broad front in an ef­fort to over­whelm the Is­lamic State’s de­fenses.

Af­ter nearly eight months of fight­ing, Iraqi forces ap­pear poised to re­take what was once the Is­lamic State’s largest strong­hold in Iraq and the birth­place of its caliphate. Fight­ing, es­pe­cially in the city’s west, has been fe­ro­cious, leav­ing Iraqi forces with thou­sands of ca­su­al­ties. Civil­ians, too, have been caught in the cross­fire, leav­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands dis­placed and thou­sands dead.

Even though the Is­lamic State now con­trols only roughly five square miles of the city, Iraqi and U.S. com­man­ders have cau­tioned that the worst fight­ing is yet to come.

From his small pa­trol base north of the city, U.S. Army Capt. De­van Zim­mer­man said the U.S.-led coali­tion had al­ready pro­vided a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of air and ar­tillery strikes Satur­day morn­ing.

Yet with such a small amount of the city still held by the mil­i­tants and so many Iraqi forces at­tack­ing at once, Zim­mer­man said, it will be dif­fi­cult to mar­shal and co­or­di­nate U.S.-led air­craft over the city.

“This isn’t go­ing to be quick,” said Zim­mer­man, who helps ad­vise a brigade from the Iraqi 9th Di­vi­sion.

De­spite po­ten­tial early gains, Iraqi forces have taken ca­su­al­ties. Late Satur­day, the Iraqi Joint Op­er­a­tions Com­mand is­sued a state­ment that two colonels from the army’s 16th Di­vi­sion were killed in the fight­ing.

Along with the mil­i­tants still in parts of the city, tens of thou­sands of Iraqi civil­ians re­main trapped in their homes, cre­at­ing the po­ten­tial for a hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe if they are not evac­u­ated safely.

On Fri­day, Iraqi forces dropped thou­sands of leaflets over western Mo­sul, telling those in their homes to flee.

On Satur­day, check­points out­side Mo­sul saw a surge in civil­ians try­ing to get out of the city. The United Na­tions has es­ti­mated that roughly 200,000 civil­ians re­main in Is­lamic State-oc­cu­pied neigh­bor­hoods and that 10,000 have be­gun leav­ing each day.

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