Iraq says it liberated the ‘important areas’ of east Mosul
London - Iraqi forces have retaken control of eastern Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS), commanders said, three months after a huge offensive against the militant bastion began.
Iraqi forces entered the last neighbourhoods on the eastern side of Mosul, on the left bank of the Tigris river, which runs through the city.
Speaking at a news conference in Bartalla, a town east of Mosul, Staff General Talib al-Sheghati, who heads the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), announced “the liberation… of the left bank”.
Sheghati added that, while the east of the city could be considered under government control, work remained to be done to clear the last holdout militants.
The “important lines and important areas are finished”, he said, adding that “there is only a bit of the northern (front) remaining”.
Sheghati said plans were being drawn up to retake the western part of the city. He did not elaborate on when that phase of the operation would begin.
The west bank of Mosul is a bit smaller but the streets in the Old City are too narrow for most military vehicles to use.
Stiff resistance by militants, thousands of civilians being trapped in their houses by the fighting and bad weather slowed the advance of Iraqi troops.
All the bridges across the Tigris in Mosul have been either blown up by ISIS or destroyed by US-led coalition air strikes, which has made it difficult for ISIS to resupply its fighters in the city’s east.
It will also make it difficult for Iraqi forces to attack the right bank without redeploying to other fronts west of the river that have been largely static for weeks.
The operation has left more than 148,000 people homeless, the United Nations said. Nearly 12,500 people have fled their homes in the past week, UN officials said. More than 1 million people were estimated to be in Mosul in October, when Iraqi forces began the operation to retake the city.
The United Nations warned of an oil spill south of the Iraqi city of Mosul, near the town of Qayara, which was retaken from ISIS in September. The warnings were in a report on environmental damage caused by oil fires intentionally started by retreating ISIS militants.
Observers said they expect the insurgency to continue after Mosul is retaken, especially if conditions do not improve for the area’s Sunnis.
More than six months after Iraqi forces retook Falluja, 50km west of Baghdad, from ISIS, reconstruction is slow and the government risks alienating those residents who have returned to the city.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said in December that only about 10% of homes in Falluja were inhabitable.
Mayor Issa al-Sayer called for “the help of the international community to allow Falluja residents to live in stability”.
Baghdad promised to enable the speedy return of those who had been displaced during the reconquest of Falluja but the government is strapped for cash. The risk that observers warned about before the operation to retake Falluja started is that unkept promises would fuel a sense among Sunni residents that they are being marginalised by the government, which is dominated by Shia parties.
Violence and military operations across Iraq claimed the lives of more than 16,000 civilians in 2016, a research group said, making it one of the deadliest years in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.
In its annual report, the London-based Iraq Body Count reported that 16,361 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2016. The northern province of Nineveh was the worst hit, with 7,431 people killed. Baghdad was next with 3,714 civilians killed, the research showed.
The report came after the United Nations in Iraq released a report that stated that 6,878 civilians were killed by violence in 2016.
The UN mission said the numbers did not include casualties among civilians in Iraq’s western Anbar province for May, July, August and December. It said it was hindered from verifying casualty numbers in conflict areas and from secondary effects of violence.