Iraqis ex­pect gru­el­ing fight in next stage of Mo­sul war

Bat­tle to re­take Old City from ISIS likely to go al­ley to al­ley, house to house

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Trevor Hughes @trevorhughes

Iraqi sol­diers pushed into the Old City on Sun­day in what was likely to be a bit­ter bat­tle to re­take Mo­sul’s neigh­bor­hoods from ISIS fight­ers.

The Is­lamic State cap­tured Mo­sul three years ago, declar­ing Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city the cap­i­tal of its caliphate.

Iraqi gov­ern­ment forces have been push­ing ISIS out of Mo­sul for the past nine months, and the new of­fen­sive may end with the Is­lamic State’s last stand there.

“Iraqi forces early this morn­ing breach into old #Mo­sul, the fi­nal #ISIS-held district in the city. We are proud to stand with them,” Brett McGurk, spe­cial pres­i­den­tial en­voy for the Global Coali­tion to Counter ISIS, posted on Twit­ter.

A U.S.-led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion pro­vides air and ground sup­port to the cam­paign. Sev­eral airstrikes dur­ing the day hit a med­i­cal com­plex just north of the Old City along the west­ern bank of the Ti­gris River, Reuters TV re­ported.

Videos and pho­tos taken by jour­nal­ists ac­com­pa­ny­ing Iraqi units de­pict a painstak­ing ef­fort to ad­vance through the densely pop­u­lated Old City, which has wind­ing streets and nar­row al­leys.

The United Na­tions said about 100,000 peo­ple are trapped in the area and are at risk from the ex­pected house-to-house fight­ing nec­es­sary to dis­lodge the mil­i­tants.

“This will be a ter­ri­fy­ing time for around 100,000 peo­ple still trapped in Mo­sul’s Old City ... now at risk of get­ting caught up in the fierce street fight­ing to come,” the In­ter­na­tional Rescue Com­mit­tee said in a state­ment.

Iraqi state tele­vi­sion aired live footage show­ing thick black smoke ris­ing from the Old City as gun­fire rat­tled in­side.

Leaflets were dis­trib­uted urg­ing civil­ians to leave through five “safe cor­ri­dors,” Reuters re­ported.

Gen. Ab­del Ghani al-Asadi, head of Iraq’s spe­cial forces, told state TV he ex­pected the ex­trem­ists to put up a “vi­cious and tough fight.” Al-Asadi said the troops “will be very care­ful” to pro­tect the civil­ians in the densely pop­u­lated area, Reuters re­ported.

“This will be a ter­ri­fy­ing time for around 100,000 peo­ple still trapped in Mo­sul’s Old City ... now at risk of get­ting caught up in the fierce street fight­ing to come.” In­ter­na­tional Rescue Com­mit­tee

AH­MAD AL-RUBAYE, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Iraqi troops ad­vance on Mo­sul’s Old City on Sun­day in what is ex­pected to be fierce fight­ing in densely pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods.

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