Kurdish forces open front and tighten grip on Isis capital Mosul
Fighters capture strategic river crossing in Iraq backed by US-led coalition air strikes
Kurdish Peshmerga forces in southeast Mosul, Iraq. Photograph: Azad Lashkari/Reuters
Kurdish Peshmerga forces said on Monday they had secured a river crossing enabling them to open a new front against Islamic State and further tighten their grip on the militants’ capital, Mosul.
Backed by air strikes from the US-led coalition, Kurdish fighters reached Kanhash, the western side of the Gwer bridge, the target of an offensive that started on Sunday.
The militants damaged the bridge across the Grand Zab river two years ago as they swept through northern and western Iraq. Repairing the bridge would allow Peshmerga and other anti-Isis forces to move towards Mosul from a new front.
“Control over Kanhash Heights give the Peshmerga strategic advantage over nearby enemy positions and the main road linking Mosul,” tweeted Masrour Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Region Security Council. “This successful operation will tighten the grip around Isil’s stronghold Mosul,” he added, using another acronym for Isis.
About 150sq km were taken from the militants along the Grand Zab which flows into the Tigris, Kurdish officials said.
It was from Mosul’s Grand Mosque in 2014 that Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning regions of Iraq and Syria. With a pre-war population of nearly two million, it is the largest urban centre under the militants’ control and its fall would mark the effective defeat of Isis in Iraq, according to prime minister Haider al-Abadi.
The Iraqi army is trying to close in from the south. In July, it captured the Qayyara airfield, 60km (35 miles) south of Mosul, which is to serve as the main staging post for the anticipated offensive.
The militants were using suicide car bombs and mortar rounds to try to slow the Kurds’ advance, said Saif Hameed, a Reuters correspondent. “At the sixth village we entered, we received the usual incoming fire and the gunner was firing back. Mortars started to land on our right every three minutes,” said Hameed, who was moving in a Peshmerga armoured truck with journalists.
“Suddenly one of the men who was anxiously watching through the narrow, shattered bulletproof glass shouted and all eyes turned to the left,” he said. “It was a car bomb and it was speeding towards us. The gunner opened fire from the turret and it vanished. As we retreated from the village, we were told it exploded elsewhere.”
Authorities in autonomous Kurdistan gave no toll for the fighting, other than confirming on Sunday the death of a Kurdish TV cameraman and the injury of another journalist. Preparations for the offensive on Mosul were nearing the final phase, US envoy Brett McGurk told reporters on Thursday. He said the planning included aid to uprooted civilians.
Up to one million could be driven from homes in northern Iraq, once fighting intensifies around Mosul, posing “a massive humanitarian problem”, the International Committee of the Red Cross forecast last month. More than 3.4 million people have already been forced by conflict to leave their homes across Iraq. – ( Reuters)