Iraqi forces face stiff resistance in Mosul
LONDON - Iraqi forces are meeting stiff resistance from Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Mosul, officials said as the operation to recapture the city enters its second month.
Iraqi special forces said they control significant pockets in the Zahra, Qadisiya, Tahrir and Gogjali neighbourhoods. The territory, however, covers less than 1/10th of the city’s area.
Iraq has mobilised a 100,000-strong coalition of Iraqi government forces, Kurdish fighters and Shia militias to take on the estimated 5,000 ISIS fighters inside Mosul.
The US-led coalition has launched more than 4,000 air strikes during the past month, mainly around Mosul, and provided Iraqi forces with surveillance and intelligence. The United States has also deployed Apache attack helicopters to support Iraqi troops engaged in urban warfare in eastern Mosul.
Iranian-backed militias announced the capture of an airbase in Tal Afar west of Mosul, as part of their campaign to seal off the route between the Syrian and Iraqi parts of ISIS territory.
The tempo of the operations has been slow as Iraqi forces have had to deal with several counter-attacks from ISIS fighters employing tunnels to suddenly appear behind advancing forces, suicide car bombs, snipers and small units of fighters left behind to fight to the death.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in the city and Iraqi officers said they worry that ISIS supporters among the civilians are helping the group.
“We’ve cleared the territory (in the Zahra district) of fighters but some of the civilians still support Daesh,” Iraqi special forces Major Ahmed Mamouri said using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
In fights against ISIS in Ramadi and Falluja, Iraqi ground forces emptied entire cities of their civilian populations, simplifying the battlefield. Iraqi authorities have declined to give a timeline for recapture of the whole of Mosul, but the fight is likely to last months. Iraqi authorities have not published a casualty toll for the campaign, whether for security forces, civilians or ISIS fighters.
Since the operation began on October 17th, nearly 57,000 civilians around northern Iraq have been forced from their homes, UN officials said. Inside Mosul, thousands remain in neighbourhoods retaken by government forces. The figure does not include the thousands of people rounded up in villages around Mosul and forced to accompany ISIS fighters to cover their retreat towards the city.
“We are working as quickly as we can and in close coordination with Iraqi authorities to help some of the most at-risk people in the world,” UN humanitarian coordinator Lise Grande said in a statement.
Most of the first weeks of fighting were in sparsely populated areas outside the city but forces are now pushing into heavily built-up areas where aid delivery is complicated.
“With military operations imminent in densely populated sections of Mosul city, humanitarians are increasingly worried about the ability of families impacted by the conflict to reach safety and assistance,” the United Nations said in a statement.
The autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) suggested it would try to expand the area it rules in northern Iraq to include surrounding villages and towns captured by Kurdish fighters from ISIS and possibly the oil-rich region of Kirkuk.
Kurdish peshmerga forces “will not retreat from areas retaken” from Islamic State militants in Iraq, KRG President Masoud Barzani said, Rudaw TV reported.
Barzani’s comment angered the central government in Baghdad, which opposes any plans to expand the Kurdish autonomous area.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi’s office said there was agreement between the government and the Kurds that provides for their “withdrawal to the places they held before the start of the liberation operations”.
However, it said the agreement did not cover territory taken by peshmerga fighters from ISIS forces between 2014 and the start of the Mosul campaign last month, which includes the contested region of Kirkuk.
On the sidelines of a climate conference in Morocco, Iraqi President Fuad Masum said ISIS would be “wiped out” in Mosul, but did not say exactly when that would happen.
“Specifying a timeline is difficult because there are always surprises in wars,” he said, speaking about Mosul. “I think that even if it takes another month or two, in the end, ISIS will be wiped out militarily.” The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies.