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Reinforced Iraqi troops to launch fresh bid to take Mosul from Isis

After being stalled on the edges of Mosul for weeks, replenished Iraqi forces will now attempt to overcome Isis resistance 

Hamza Hendawi
Wednesday 28 December 2016 19:50 GMT
Iraqi forces are battling Isis in eastern Mosul
Iraqi forces are battling Isis in eastern Mosul (Reuters)

Iraqi troops are set to launch a three-pronged assault on eastern Mosul in a bid to drive Isis fighters out of the city, following reinforcements.

After being stalled on the edges of Mosul for weeks, replenished Iraqi forces will now attempt to overcome Isis resistance to recapture the militant group’s last main bastion in the country.

In an attempt to isolate militants in the eastern sector from those in the western half of Mosul, warplanes from the US-led coalition destroyed the last remaining bridge over the Tigris river, which runs through city centre.

So far in the Mosul offensive, Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces, which are by far the military’s most seasoned unit, have done most of the fighting, pushing in from the east.

However, regular army troops on the city’s southeast and northern edges, as well as Federal Police further west, have not moved in weeks, unable to penetrate the city either because they are not equipped or trained to fight on the streets, or because of inadequate resources.

Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, commander of the counter-terrorism forces in eastern Mosul, said units of the Federal Police have joined units from the military’s 9th Division southeast of Mosul, while troops have taken positions alongside units from the army’s 16th Division on the north side.

Lt Gen al-Saadi would not say when the advance would begin, but it appears likely within days, weather permitting. He would not give details on the size of the reinforcements.

The new reinforcements suggest that original plans to penetrate the city’s western side have been abandoned and that the plan is now for all forces to push on in the eastern sector.

The bridge hit this week was the last of five bridges across the Tigris between the western and eastern halves. The Old Bridge, as it is known, was built in the 1930s and is considered one of the city’s landmarks.

The damage is expected to further complicate life inside Mosul. A resident said people waiting by the banks to be ferried across ran for cover every time they heard a plane buzzing overheard, fearing further airstrikes.

The counter-terrorism forces, also known as the “Golden Division”, have taken a string of areas in eastern Mosul and are now less than two miles away from the Tigris river, which slices the city in half. But they have moved little in the past two weeks, apparently waiting for the reinforcements.

They have faced gruelling house-to-house fighting against Isis militants who have had more than two years to dig in and prepare.

Even in districts that have been wrested away from Isis, Iraqi troops have faced surprise attacks, shelling and car bombs. The extremists have launched more than 900 car bombs against Iraqi troops so far during the operation in Mosul and surrounding areas in Nineveh province. Lt Gen Al-Saadi said 260 of these had targeted his men.

“Daesh has by now realised that the battle is in the eastern sector of Mosul, and that’s where most of its forces are,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Isis.

He denied reports that the lull in fighting was caused by a higher-than-expected casualties among his men.

“We have sustained casualties, but not much,” he said. “We will also be reinforced by new members of the counter-terrorism forces.”

The presence of an estimated one million civilians inside Mosul is partly to blame for the slow progress in the battle since Iraqi forces and their allies in the US-led coalition have avoided the use of overwhelming firepower against the militants for fear of massive civilian casualties.

About 120,000 people have fled the city since the offensive began, according to the United Nations.

A new menace in the fight was the growing use of drones by Isis, mostly armed with bombs or grenades which they drop on troops or civilians, he said.

Lt Gen al-Saadi said he expected Mosul and the rest of Nineveh province to be totally rid of Isis in about three months.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi spoke last week of a need to revise the battle plans in Mosul. On Tuesday, he told a news conference: “God willing, there will be good news in the coming days.”

Associated Press

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