Mosul sees pause in major military operations
London - There has been a pause in major military operations in Mosul as Iraqi forces battling Islamic State (ISIS) militants prepare to advance into the western side of the city.
Iraqi forces launched an offensive to recapture Mosul on October 17th but only managed to retake the eastern side recently. The western side is thought to be more difficult to penetrate and hosts some 750,000 civilians.
ISIS fighters have reportedly established sniper positions in buildings on the west bank of the Tigris river ahead of the expected government offensive. They have moved into Mosul’s main medical complex, which includes a dozen buildings between two of the city’s five bridges — positions that can be used for observation and sniper fire, residents told Reuters.
Iraqi troops have been firing across the river to harass the militants and disrupt fortifications. ISIS militants are expected to put up fierce resistance when the next phase of the offensive begins.
“The idea is to keep making life tough for them from our position, to kill them and prevent them from escaping as other forces surround them from other directions,” Major Mohamed Ali told Reuters.
Both sides are waging a war of attrition. ISIS released drone footage of cars driving at high speed into clusters of army Humvees and armoured vehicles before blowing up. Iraqi soldiers were seen fleeing as the car bombs sped towards them. The recordings also showed munitions dropped from drones.
ISIS is reportedly hacking store-bought drones, using testing protocols and innovative tactics that mimic those used by US unmanned aircraft to adapt to diminishing numbers of fighters and a battlefield that is increasingly difficult to navigate on the ground.
Iraqi forces said they discovered a mustard chemical warfare agent in eastern Mosul alongside a cache of Russian surface-to-surface missiles.
About 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of regional Kurdish forces and Shia paramilitaries, backed by air and ground support from a US-led coalition, are involved in the Mosul operation.
Iraqi forces estimated the number of ISIS militants inside Mosul at 5,000-6,000 at the start of the battle and said 3,300 have been killed in the fighting.
More than 160,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the offensive.
Children detained by Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government on suspicion that they had connections to ISIS allege they were tortured, a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) states.
The children, who have not been formally charged with a crime, said they were held in stress positions, burned with cigarettes, shocked with electricity and beaten with plastic pipes, HRW said.
More than 180 boys under the age of 18 are being held, HRW estimated, and Kurdish government officials have not informed their families where they are, increasing the likelihood the children could disappear.
The rights group says they interviewed 19 boys aged 11 to 17 while they were in custody at a children’s reformatory in Erbil. The rights group says the interviews were conducted without a security official or intelligence officer present.
As Iraqi security forces have retaken territory from ISIS in the last 18 months, they have detained hundreds of men and boys. Many of those detained may have suffered inhumane treatment or been tortured. Rights groups warn such practices risk sowing resentment of Iraqi security forces in the wake of military victories against ISIS.
“If the authorities and the international coalition really care about combating ISIS, they need to look beyond the military solution and at the policies that have empowered it,” Belkis Wille, a senior Iraq researcher for HRW, told the Associated Press.
“Policies like torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of property and displacement are and will continue to (be) drivers for victims’ families to join extremist groups,” she added.
In Baghdad, Iraq’s parliament approved the appointment of a new Defence minister, Erfan al-Hiyali, and a new Interior minister, Qasim al-Araji, state television said.
Hiyali, a Sunni, and Araji, a Shia, are filling positions left vacant last year.
Hiyali replaces Khaled al-Obeidi, who was sacked by parliament. Araji replaces Mohammed al-Ghabban, who resigned after a massive truck bombing in central Baghdad in July.
However, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s nominees for the Trade and Industry ministries failed to win the necessary votes for approval.
Hoshiyar Zebari was sacked as Finance minister in September following accusations of corruption, which he denied.
Critics slammed the dismissals of Obeidi and Zebari as politically motivated and warned they risked undermining security in the country.
Industry Minister Mohammed al-Daraji resigned following orders from Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who called for protests last year demanding Abadi replace his cabinet with technocrats. Daraji is from Sadr’s political camp. The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies.