Iraqi forces edge closer to Mosul’s Old City
London- US-backed Iraqi forces are moving to surround Mosul’s Old City after launching a new push to drive Islamic State (ISIS) militants from the area.
Iraqi special forces Lieutenant- General Sami al-Arathi was quoted by the Associated Press as saying battle plans had changed and a northern advance began recently after Iraqi forces struggled to push into the Old City from the south.
US-led coalition spokesman US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said Iraqi forces have retaken more than 30 sq.km of terrain from ISIS. Dorrian said while ISIS defences in Mosul were “degraded” each day, it was impossible to predict how long the operation would take.
Iraqi forces also began a broad operation to root out ISIS fighters from hideouts in Iraq’s western Anbar province.
“The security forces are advancing from an area called ‘Kilometre 160,’ west of Ramadi, towards Nukhaib,” an unnamed officer stationed in Rutba, an outpost in the west of Anbar, told Agence France- Presse (AFP).
Major-General Mahmud al-Falahi, the head of Anbar Operations Command, told AFP the goal of the operation was to flush out ISIS fighters in the desert and secure Rutba.
About 30 members of the security forces have been killed in attacks and ambushes by ISIS in the Rutba area over the past three weeks.
The operation to retake Mosul began in October. The eastern half of the city was retaken earlier this year but the battle for the more densely populated western half of Mosul, including the Old City, has been slower.
Mosul fell to ISIS nearly three years ago when the militant group moved into Iraq from neighbouring Syria and took nearly one-third of the country under its control. Western Mosul is the last significant urban terrain ISIS holds in Iraq.
The United Nations estimated that 350,000 people remained in ISIS-held parts of western Mosul. More than 11,000 civilians have fled recently.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 625 people from Mosul have lost an arm or a leg in the nearly 7-month battle for the city.
The United Nations said more than 12,000 Mosul civilians have been wounded, a count that only includes those who have made it to hospitals outside the city to receive treatment.
Separately, Human Rights Watch said in a report that Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities in Kirkuk were forcing internally displaced Sunni Turkmen to leave the city.
“All Iraqis have the right to live in safety, and forcing displaced Turkmen families out of their homes to parts of the country where they would be in danger is particularly egregious,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “KRG forces should cease harassing Turkmen and unlawfully forcing them to leave Kirkuk.”
A KRG spokesman denied displaced people were being given a deadline to leave Kirkuk. He told HRW that based on a decision by local authorities, displaced people “whose areas have been liberated months or a year ago are assisted to return to their original areas of residence.”
International human rights and humanitarian law prohibits forced displacement because of a person’s religion or ethnicity and gives those individuals the right to seek safety in another part of the country.
“Turkmen families, like any other Iraqis, have the right to live in Kirkuk without fear of having their papers taken or being forcibly evicted,” Fakih said.
Authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region also came under fire for alleged violations against journalists. The Metro Centre for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, said that it had recorded 90 violations against 70 journalists in the area since the beginning of 2017.
“Here in the Kurdistan region, in the imitation of undemocratic and freedom oppressing countries, media freedom and the free media have been sanctioned, and constrained,” Diyari Mohamad, the centre’s deputy head said in a statement.
Iraq is “one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. The Iraqi Observatory for Press Freedoms reported that 21 journalists had been killed in the country in the past year.
Meanwhile in Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament passed a law banning politicians from taking part in conferences abroad without the prior consent of the government.