Iraq forces push deep into Mosul
mosul — Iraqi forces have retaken two thirds of old Mosul, a week after launching an offensive against the Daesh group’s last bastion in the city, a senior commander said on Sunday.
Lieutenant Colonel Salam Al Obeidi was speaking to AFP inside the devastated Old City, about 50 metres from what is left of the “Hadba” leaning minaret the militants blew up four days earlier.
“Sixty-five to 70 per cent of the Old City has been liberated, there is less than a square kilometre left to retake,” said Obeidi, from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service that has spearheaded the assault.
He estimated that only “a few hundred Daesh fighters” were left in the Old City.
The ornamental brickwork on the base of the 12th century “Hadba” (Hunchback) minaret, which was Mosul’s symbol and one of the most recognisable landmarks in Iraq, was visible in the background.
The cylindrical shaft of the minaret came tumbling down when Daesh on June 21 detonated explosives the militants had rigged to it.
The militants simultaneously blew up the nearby Nuri mosque, where Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi gave his first sermon as Daesh leader in July 2014, his last public appearance to date.
The narrow, windy streets of the Old City, an area packed with heritage treasures covering about three square kilometres on Mosul’s west bank of the Tigris, were littered with rubble. The fighting has been among the most intense in the three-year-old war against Daesh and AFP reporters said the destruction in old Mosul was extensive, with some buildings still standing but none unscathed.
The militants, who have no escape from their last redoubt in the Old City, have mounted a fierce defence using booby traps, mortars, suicide attacks and snipers.
The massively outnumbered and outgunned group of die-hard militants are holding tens of thousands of civilians as human shields.
On Saturday, Iraqi forces opened exit routes for hundreds of civilians to flee the Old City of Mosul as they battled to retake the quarter from Daesh militants.
US-trained urban warfare units were channelling their onslaught along two perpendicular streets that converge in the heart of the Old City, aiming to isolate the insurgents in four pockets.
A Reuters correspondent saw a young girl with facial injuries walking dazed and shocked across the frontline out of heavily-populated district with a group of neighbours. All her family was killed when their house collapsed, they said.
At least 100 civilians reached the safety of a government-held area west of the Old City in one 20-minute period, tired, scared and hungry. Soldiers gave them food and water. More than 100,000 civilians, of whom half are believed to be children, remain trapped in the crumbling old houses of the Old City, with little food, water or medical treatment.
The United Nations voiced alarm on Saturday at the rising death toll among civilians in the fighting, saying as many as 12 were killed and hundreds injured on Friday.
“Fighting is very intense in the Old City and civilians are at extreme, almost unimaginable risk. There are reports that thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of people are being held as human shields (by Daesh,” Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said in a statement. — AFP, Reuters