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Iraqi forces push on against IS in Mosul

MOSUL CITY: An Iraqi special forces soldier patrols at al-Tahrir neighborhood yesterday. — AP
MOSUL CITY: An Iraqi special forces soldier patrols at al-Tahrir neighborhood yesterday. — AP

MOSUL, Iraq: A top Iraqi commander said yesterday that troops were continuing to advance toward the center of Mosul, pushing back Islamic State fighters, but slowed down by sniper fire and suicide bombings as well as concern over the safety of civilians in a city that is home to some one million people.

A few hundred civilians, meanwhile, emerged from rubble-strewn frontline neighborhoods in search of safer ground, including women and children, some of them carrying bags or small suitcases packed with belongings.
Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi told The Associated Press that his special forces were searching homes in areas retaken from IS, looking for militants and vehicles rigged to be used in suicide bombings. Troops in those areas continue to be hit by mortar and sniper fire, he said.

Another Iraqi army commander, Brig. Gen. Haidar Fadel, said a suicide car bomber hiding inside a house attempted late Saturday to drive his vehicle toward troops in the city’s Tahrir neighborhood. He was shot dead and his explosives-laden car detonated at a safe distance, he added.

However, Fadel said the car exploded close to a house, causing it to collapse, killing four civilians and wounding four others.
The troops fighting in Mosul’s eastern side laid siege Sunday to the Al-Zohour neighborhood, about eight kilometers (five miles) from the city center. The arrival of the troops at the neighborhood’s fringes prompted hundreds of civilians to emerge from their homes waving white flags and walking to relative safety behind army lines. “The biggest hindrance to us is the civilians whose presence is slowing us down,” declared al-Aridi of the special forces. “We are soldiers who are not trained to carry out humanitarian tasks.”

The Iraqi military began the campaign one month ago to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the last major urban center in the country still held by the militants. The campaign has been slow, with IS putting up stiff resistance. Most gains thus far have been made by the special forces operating in the section of Mosul east of the Tigris river. The campaign is being assisted by airstrikes from the U.S.-led military coalition.

IS captured Mosul, 360 kilometers north of Baghdad, in the summer of 2014 as part of a blitz that placed nearly a third of Iraq under the militants’ control. Iraqi troops, federal police and allied Shiite and Sunni militias have over the past year pushed IS militants from most of the vast Sunni province of Anbar, west of Baghdad, and areas to the north and east of the Iraqi capital.

Army troops, meanwhile, arrived on the outskirts of Tal Afar west of Mosul to reinforce the state-sanctioned Shiite militias who have captured the town’s airport and are preparing to retake the town, according to two senior militia officials.  They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Prior to its capture by IS, Shiites constituted the majority of Tal Afar’s estimated 200,000 residents. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, claimed in a report Sunday that Sunni militiamen fighting alongside the Iraqi military detained and beat 22 men from villages near Mosul and recruited 10 children from displaced camps in the area to join the fight against IS.

“The Iraqi authorities should investigate any alleged acts of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment in custody and charge those responsible for war crimes, including anyone with command responsibility who should have known about the crimes and failed to take all reasonable measures to prevent them,” said the New York-based advocacy group.

“The US should press the Iraqi government to ensure that the troops they are supporting don’t have fighters under 18 in their ranks,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.-AP

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