Mosul sees pause in major military operations

Sunday 05/02/2017
Iraqi volunteer painting over mural that had been displayed by ISIS

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.