Iraqi security forces yesterday began the second phase of their offensive against Islamic State militants in Mosul, pushing from three directions into eastern districts where the battle has been deadlocked for nearly a month.
US-backed forces have retaken a quarter of the jihadists' last major stronghold in Iraq in the biggest ground operation there since the 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein. More than 5,000 soldiers and federal police troops, redeployed from
Mosul’s southern outskirts, entered half a dozen southeastern districts, while counterterrorism forces advanced in al-Quds and Karama districts after reinforcements arrived. Other soldiers pushed simultaneously towards the city’s northern limits. US military advisers were seen watching operations. “At 0700 this morning the three fronts began advancing towards the city centre. The operation is ongoing today and tomorrow and until we liberate the eastern side of the city completely,” Lieut Gen Ali Freiji, who was overseeing army operations in the north, said. A US-led coalition backing the Iraqis said the operation had opened two new fronts inside Mosul and limited Islamic State’s ability to raise fighter numbers, move them or resupply.
The fall of Mosul would probably spell the end for Islamic State’s ambition to rule over millions of people in a self-styled caliphate, although the militants would still be capable of waging a traditional insurgency in Iraq, and plotting or inspiring attacks on the West.
One elite Iraqi unit encountered sniper and machine gunfire as it advanced alongside federal police in Mosul’s Intisar district, an officer said. A plume of white smoke, likely to be from an air strike, rose from a southeastern district while heavy gunfire was audible on the northern front and a commander there said nine suicide car bombs had been disabled. State TV said Islamic State defences were collapsing in the areas of Salam, Intisar, Wahda, Palestine and al-Quds and that fighters’ bodies filled the streets there.
A military statement later said forces had raised the Iraqi flag in al-Quds. The government’s accounts are difficult to confirm as the authorities have increasingly restricted foreign media’s access to the battle fronts and areas retaken from Islamic State in and around Mosul. They have given no reason. The military has not entered the city’s western side, where 2,000-year-old markets and narrow alleyways would be likely to complicate any advance.
The battle for Mosul involves 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of the Kurdish security forces and Shia militiamen. US commanders have said in recent weeks that their military advisers will embed more extensively with Iraqi forces. Some were spotted on a roof behind the front lines on Thursday, advising Iraqi commanders and watching the operations. An army colonel said Iraqi forces had suffered few casualties so far. “The orders from the senior commanders are clear: no halting, no retreat until we reach the fourth bridge and link up with counterterrorism units,” he said. – (Reuters)