Iraqi forces launch large-scale push to retake western Mosul from ISIS

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2016 file photo, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a large-scale military operation on Sunday to retake the western half of Mosul and dislodge Islamic State militants. It is the latest phase in a 4-month-old offensive to retake Iraq’s second largest city.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation on state TV, saying government forces were moving to “liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression and terrorism forever,” using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. He called on security forces to deal with civilians properly and to respect human rights.

Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” last month, however ISIS militants continued to launch attacks there. Hours after the latest operation was announced, suicide bombers struck troops and pro-government Sunni militiamen in eastern Mosul.

“ISIS’s cruelty, brutality and reach show they are not just a threat in Iraq and Syria, but to the region and the entire world,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, in a statement.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising into the sky early Sunday morning as U.S.-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery toward the city. Heavily armed police units were getting ready to move north with their armored vehicles from a base just southwest of the city.

“This is zero hour and we are going to end this war, God willing,” said Mahmoud Mansour, a police officer, as he prepared to move out.

The battle for western Mosul promises to be the most daunting yet, as the half of the city west of the Tigris River has older, narrower streets and is still home to hundreds of thousands of civilians, who have been told to shelter in place.

“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge,” said Townsend. “They have taken the fight to the enemy and sacrificed their blood for the people of Iraq and the rest of the world.”

The immediate objective was to take the villages on the southern outskirts of Mosul airport, a police spokesman told The Associated Press. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Police units quickly moved into the village of Athba, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) southwest of the airport, encountering only light resistance, according to an AP reporter traveling with them. Separately, the army’s 9th Division moved into the village of Bakhira, also southwest of the city, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said.

The United Nations meanwhile warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside their houses “are at extreme risk,” with dwindling fuel and food supplies and scare drinking water and electricity.

“The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble,” Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement. “We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes,” Grande said.

Citing witnesses in western Mosul, the U.N. said nearly half of all food shops were closed and bakeries had shut down due to a lack of fuel and an inability to purchase costly flour. Prices of kerosene and cooking gas have skyrocketed, and many of the most destitute families are burning wood, furniture, plastic or garbage for cooking and heating.

“Three out of five people now depend on untreated water from wells for cooking and drinking as water systems and treatment plants have been damaged by fighting or run out of chlorine,” said Peter Hawkins, of the U.N. agency for children.

The humanitarian agencies were gearing up to aid 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee due to fighting, the statement said. The U.N. estimates that about 750,000 civilians may be left in western Mosul.

Iraqi forces spent three months driving ISIS from eastern Mosul, but the militants appear to have left sleeper cells to carry out attacks behind the front lines.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, said a suicide bomber set off struck a patrol of Sunni tribal fighters in Zihoor neighborhood, while another targeted Iraqi troops in Nabi Younis.

Rasool declined to provide casualty figures. Two policemen said one Sunni fighter was killed and nine wounded in the first attack, while the second attack wounded five soldiers. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

Iraqi special operations forces, regular army and federal police units are taking part in the offensive along with government-approved paramilitary forces, mainly consisting of Shiite militias, which are operating on the city’s outskirts.

Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq. It is the extremist group’s last major urban bastion in Iraq.

[Source:-Fox news]

Mosul assault: Iraq troops make headway against IS

Members of the Iraqi rapid response forces fire a missile toward Islamic State militants during a battle in south of Mosul, Iraq February 19, 2017

Iraqi government forces have seized several villages as they move towards an assault on the last area held by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Mosul.

Hundreds of military vehicles, backed by air power, rolled across the desert towards IS positions early on Sunday.

The progress on Sunday in the south of the city, the second biggest in Iraq, takes them within striking distance of Mosul airport.

Fears have been voiced about the safety of many thousands of trapped civilians.

The offensive was formally announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi early on Sunday.

Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah said in a statement that elite Rapid Response units captured the villages of Athbah and Al-Lazzagah – two villages south of Mosul airport.

Attack on west Mosul: Day one in pictures

Government forces retook the eastern side of the city, the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, last month. But military officials say the western side, with its narrow, winding streets, may prove a bigger challenge.

For now, there is no advance from eastern Mosul as all bridges from there to the west of the city, across the Tigris river, have been destroyed.

Map of Mosul city showing areas of control

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the US-led coalition forces, said in a statement on Sunday: “Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world.”

Special forces units safely detonated a number of IS car bombs as they cleared villages south of Mosul, according to the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with the troops.

As well as primed car bombs, the jihadists left behind SIM cards, clothes, instant coffee and weapons as they retreated.

  • Photos show ‘weaponised drones’ in Iraq
  • Satellite images reveal Mosul damage
  • Iraq gaining momentum against IS
  • Islamic State group: The full story
A hidden and still live car bomb found in a village homeImage copyrightQUENTIN SOMMERVILLE/BBC
Image captionA hidden and still live car bomb found in a village home

The UN has voiced concern about civilians trapped there, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000. Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over the west of the city.

Charity Save the Children said on Sunday it believed that as many as 350,000 children were trapped.

“This is the grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay; or execution and snipers if they try to run,” said the charity’s Iraq country director, Maurizio Crivallero.


The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville is embedded with the Emergency Response Division special forces troops near Mosul

The assault began just after dawn, after days of coalition air strikes, with hundreds of armoured vehicles, thousands of men, and support from helicopter gunships.

The men of Iraq’s Emergency Response Division, police special forces are leading the attack. Their targets are three IS held villages to the south of west Mosul. They are trying to gain the high ground from IS, which will give them sight of the city’s airport and its southern edge.

The government forces made quick gains but have been slowed as they begin to take villages. There are no signs of any civilians. Heavy machine gunfire, rockets and artillery fire are constant.

For the first time in nearly three years, the Iraqi flag is again flying over the south of western Mosul.

Soldiers rest during the offensive in southern MosulImage copyrightQUENTIN SOMMERVILLE/BBC
Image captionSoldiers rest during the offensive in southern Mosul
Iraqi troops near MosulImage copyrightQUENTIN SOMMERVILLE/BBC
Image captionA soldier looks out over the desert as the offensive begins

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Iraqi forces have now all but surrounded the western part of Mosul, while the US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes on IS targets.

Ahead of the launch of the operation, Mr Abadi said in a televised speech: “We announce the start of a new phase in the operation, we are coming to Nineveh to liberate the western side of Mosul.”

“Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh [IS],” he added, quoted by AFP news agency.

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The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, told the BBC on Saturday that “all of the parties to the conflict do absolutely everything they can to ensure that civilians survive the battle, and that they live”.

“Absolutely nothing is more important going into the campaign to retake western Mosul,” she added.

As the advance got under way, the UN commissioner for human rights called on the Iraqi government to investigate videos shared on social media that appeared to show Iraqi troops brutally abusing and executing IS fighters on the streets of east Mosul late last year.

The videos have not been verified at this stage by any government authority or independent group. The Iraqi prime minister’s office said it had launched an investigation.

The offensive on the eastern part of the city was launched on 17 October, more than two years after jihadists overran Mosul before seizing control of much of northern and western Iraq.

Experts warn that western Mosul, although slightly smaller than the east, is more densely populated and includes districts that are seen as pro-IS.

The UN said in late January that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians. At least 1,096 have been killed and 694 injured across Nineveh province since the start of October.

[Source:-BBC]

Mosul battle: US troops mask up against toxic fumes

Smoke rises from the burning sulphur plant at Mishraq, near Mosul, 21 October

US soldiers at a base near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul have donned protective masks against toxic fumes from a sulphur plant set alight in fighting with so-called Islamic State.

They took the precaution after the wind blew smoke from the fire towards Qayyarah air field.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter is in Baghdad on an unscheduled visit.

Meanwhile, advancing Iraqi forces entered the town of Qaraqosh, 32km (20 miles) south of Mosul, commanders say.

Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town before the war, is said to be largely empty but IS has laid landmines on the approaches to Mosul.

The militants have been attacking with suicide bombers elsewhere, driving vehicles laden with explosives at high speed towards government lines.

Friday’s IS attack on the city of Kirkuk, 170km (105 miles) south-east of Mosul, now appears to be over, leaving at least 35 people dead and 120 wounded, according to medical sources.

Is the IS group finished?

Voices from Mosul as battle nears

Dodging ghosts of IS in the desert

‘Two dead’

Qayyarah acts as the main US hub for supporting the Iraqi government offensive to drive IS out of their Mosul stronghold.

The fire began two days ago, when IS fighters reportedly set the sulphur plant alight in Mishraq, south of Mosul.

BBC map showing large swathe of northern Iraq centred on Mosul and under the control of so-called Islamic State, with, to the east, three areas under Iraqi armed forces control, and further north, areas under Kurdish control, 21 October 2016

“The winds have actually shifted south, so, as a precautionary measure, the troops at Qayyara West have donned their personal protective equipment – continuing their operations at this point in time,” an official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

An Iraqi commander, Qusay Hamid Kadhem, told AFP news agency two civilians had died from the fumes and “many others” had been injured.

A similar fire at the Mishraq plant in 2003 burnt for weeks, sending huge amounts of sulphur dioxide into the air. It caused respiratory problems for local people and damaged the environment.


How harmful can sulphur dioxide be?

Sulphur dioxide gas is toxic when inhaled or when the skin or eyes are exposed.

When inhaled, it causes irritation to the nose and throat. Exposure to high concentrations causes nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and corrosive damage to the airways and lungs.

Skin contact causes stinging pain, redness of the skin and blisters, while eye contact causes watering and, in severe cases, may cause blindness.

Source: Public Health England


Turkish issue

Mr Carter is assessing the progress of the offensive against IS.

He comes fresh from meetings with Turkish leaders in Ankara aimed at allowing Turkey to play a part in the Mosul operation despite Iraqi concerns.

The defence secretary, who is in Iraq for the third time this year, has overseen a steady increase in US troop numbers there.

He is due to meet Iraqi leaders and military commanders.

More than 4,800 US soldiers are in Iraq and at least 100 US special operations personnel are operating with Iraqi units.

The offensive against Mosul, which began on Monday, is a two-pronged operation, with Iraqi government forces attacking from the south and Kurdish fighters advancing from the east.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, right, and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shake hands before a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, 21 OctoberImage copyrightAP
Image captionMr Carter (left) met Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Friday

Differences between Iraq and Turkey have come to the fore since hundreds of Turkish soldiers began training Sunni Muslim fighters at a base in northern Iraq last year.

The Sunni Turks fear the liberation of Mosul may be spearheaded by Shia Muslims and Kurds. Turkey says Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq have ties to the Kurdish militant PKK in Turkey.

The presence of the Turkish military has also drawn protests among radical Shia in Baghdad.

Advance continues

Reports on Tuesday that Qaraqosh had been liberated caused an outpouring of joy among Christians who had fled to Kurdish areas when IS swept into Mosul in June 2014.

But the reports turned out to be premature as snipers impeded the progress of government forces.

In Kirkuk, the governor, Najmiddin Karim, said “all” of the IS attackers had been killed by the security forces.

However, Kurdish forces controlling the city detained a number of suspected IS members on Saturday, according to an AFP photographer who recorded the arrests.

A Kurdish fighter escorts a prisoner in Kirkuk, 22 OctoberImage copyrightAFP
Image captionKurdish fighters could be seen with detainees in Kirkuk on Saturday

Concern for the fate of civilians in Mosul increased on Friday after reports that IS was herding villagers into the city, possibly to use them as human shields.

The UN is also investigating reports 40 people were shot dead by IS fighters in one village.

[Source:-BBC]

Iraqi forces launch military push to drive IS from Mosul

Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq on Monday.

Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway.

Convoys of Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces could be seen moving east of Mosul into the early hours of the day. Along the front line, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes sent plumes of smokes into the air and heavy artillery rounds could be heard.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operations on state television, launching the country on its toughest battle since American troops left nearly five years ago.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under IS rule for more than two years and is still home to more than a million civilians according to U.N. estimates.

“These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake,” al-Abadi said, addressing the city’s residents and using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State group.

“God willing, we shall win,” he added, dressed in the uniform of the elite counterterrorism forces and flanked by military commanders.

The push to retake Mosul will be the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, the strongest blow yet to the Islamic State. A statement on Al—Abadi’s website pledged the fight for the city would lead to the liberation of all Iraqi territory from the militants this year.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the launch of the operation to liberate Mosul “a decisive moment in the campaign” to deliver a lasting defeat to IS. He said the U.S. and other members of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

Iraqi forces have been massing around the city in recent days, including elite special forces that are expected to lead the charge into the city, as well as Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters, federal police and Shiite militia forces.

South of Mosul, Iraqi military units are based at the sprawling Qayara air base, but to the city’s east, men are camped out in abandoned homes as the tens of thousands of troops massed around the city have overwhelmed the few military bases in the area.

Kurdish forces are stationed to the north and east of Mosul, a mostly Sunni city that has long been a center of insurgent activity and anti-central government sentiment after the U.S.—led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraqi officials have warned that the Mosul operation has been rushed before a political agreement has been set for how the city will be governed after IS.

Lt. Col. Amozhgar Taher with Iraq’s Kurdish forces, also known as the peshmerga, said his men would only move to retake a cluster of mostly Christian and Shabak villages east of Mosul and would not enter the city itself due to their concern for “sectarian sensitivities.”

“To eliminate the threat we must eliminate (IS) from Mosul,” Taher said at a makeshift base in an abandoned house along the frontline some 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul.

The city fell to IS fighters during the militants’ June 2014 blitz that left nearly a third of Iraq in the extremists’ hands and plunged the country into its most severe crisis since the U.S-led invasion. After seizing Mosul, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi visited the city to declare an Islamic caliphate that at one point covered nearly a third of Iraq and Syria.

But since late last year, the militants have suffered battlefield losses in Iraq and their power in the country has largely shrunk to Mosul and small towns in the country’s north and west. Mosul is about 360 kilometers northwest of the capital, Baghdad.

The operation to retake Mosul is expected to be the most complex yet for Iraq’s military, which has been rebuilding from its humiliating 2014 defeat.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a statement that the operation to regain control of Mosul could take “weeks, possibly longer.”

Earlier, Iraqi Brig. Gen Haider Fadhil told The Associated Press in an interview that more than 25,000 troops, including paramilitary forces made up of Sunni tribal fighters and Shiite militias, will take part in the offensive that will be launched from five directions around the city.

The role of the Shiite militias has been particularly sensitive, as Nineveh, where Mosul is located, is a majority Sunni province and Shiite militia forces have been accused of carrying out abuses against civilians in other operations in majority Sunni parts of Iraq.

Fadhil voiced concern about potential action from Turkish troops based in the region of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. Turkey sent troops to the area late last year to train anti—IS fighters there. But Baghdad has seen the Turkish presence as a “blatant violation” of Iraqi sovereignty and has demanded the Turkish troops withdraw, a call Ankara has ignored.

Military operations are also predicted to displace 200,000 to a million people, according to the United Nations. Just a few kilometers from the eastern front line, rows of empty camps for displaced civilians line the road, but aid groups say they only have enough space for some 100,000 people.

“It is the future of Iraq at stake,” said Aleksandar Milutinovic, the Iraq country director for the International Rescue Committee. He stressed that the population of Mosul is not all supporters of IS, “they’re just people who had no other opportunity or a place to go” and urged Iraqi forces to “show will and a very serious commitment to protecting civilians and ensuring their wellbeing.”

In the midst of a deep financial crisis, the Iraqi government says it lacks the funds to adequately prepare for the humanitarian fallout of the Mosul fight. In some cases commanders say they are encouraging civilians to stay in their homes rather than flee.

“While we may be celebrating a military victory (after the Mosul operation is complete),” said Falah Mustafa, the foreign minister for Iraq’s Kurdish region, “we don’t want to have also created a humanitarian catastrophe.”

[Source:-The Hindu]