Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Iraq forces seize Mosul bridge as thousands of civilians flee

Iraq forces seize Mosul bridge as thousands of civilians flee

27 February 2017 

Iraqi forces seized a damaged Mosul bridge on Monday which could link up their units on either side of the Tigris river, as thousands of civilians fled the fighting for Islamic State's remaining stronghold in the west of the city.
US-backed army and police units advanced through populated western districts, fighting tough street battles, and announced they had captured Mosul's southernmost bridge.
Once repaired, the bridge could help bring reinforcements and supplies from the eastern side, piling pressure on the militants dug in the western side among 750,000 civilians.
Iraqi forces captured eastern Mosul in January, after 100 days of fighting. They launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris a week ago.
If they defeat Islamic State in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate that the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared in 2014 over parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. The US commander in Iraq has said he believes US-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa - Islamic State's Syria stronghold - within six months.
Since government forces broke through the city's southern limits on Thursday, more than 10,000 civilians have fled IS-held areas, seeking medical assistance, food and water, Iraqi commanders said.
About 1,000 civilians arrived in the early hours of Monday at the sector held by the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), the wounded taken to the clinic of this elite unit, while men were screened to make sure they are not IS members.
Among the people treated at the CTS clinic was a little girl with a blood on her face and a woman with shrapnel in her hand, lying immobile, apparently unconscious.
An old man who came with them said about 20 people were sheltering in their house when it was hit by an air strike two days ago in the southwestern Maamoun district.
Those who managed to escape have had to walk through the desert for at least an hour to reach government lines.

Running for cover

Several thousand militants, including many who traveled from Western countries to join up, are believed to be still in Mosul, prepared for a fierce standoff amid a remaining civilian population of 750,000.
The United Nations World Food Programme said on Monday it was extremely concerned about dire humanitarian situation facing families in western Mosul.
A Reuters reporter saw several trucks teeming with people, lifting columns of sand and dust as they drove away from the city.
One had two women and infants riding in the cabin. The rest stood on the open bed, held on to the truck from outside, or sat on top of the cabin. "They booby trapped our homes and our cars," said an old woman.
A Western volunteer medic at the CTS clinic said a boy with a gunshot wound that shattered his knee was among those treated on Monday, and a pregnant woman who had both legs amputated.
"Most of those who arrive to this point are hungry and thirsty and suffering neglect, and need medical care," CTS Brigadier General Salman Hashim told Reuters.Army, police, CTS and Rapid Response units forces attacking Islamic State in west Mosul are backed by air and ground support from U.S.-led coalition, including artillery fire. U.S. personnel are operating close to the frontlines to direct air strikes.
Iraqi troops have already captured the southern and western accesses to western Mosul, dislodging the militants from the airport, a military base, a power station and three residential district, al-Maamoun, al-Tayyaran and al-Josaq, according to military statements.
"The more we advance, the fiercer the resistance," said Lt. Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammadawi, from the Rapid Response units that are fighting near the southernmost bridge, one of five spanning the Tigris.
All of them were damaged in strikes by the US-led air coalition, and later by Islamic State fighters trying to seal off the western bank still under their control.
Iraqi forces have reached 1 kilometer (less than 1 mile) from the old city center and the main government buildings, the capture of which would effectively mean the fall of Mosul.
The militants are using mortar, sniper fire, booby traps and suicide car bombs to fight off the offensive.
They are facing a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, regional Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups.

Iraqi forces reach key bridge in western Mosul

February 27, 2017 

MOSUL // Iraqi forces reached the western Mosul’s southernmost bridge Monday, a key step in the offensive to drive ISIL from the city.
The advance, a little more than a week into a major push to retake Mosul’s west bank, could allow the army to extend a floating bridge between the city’s two halves and pile pressure on the extremists.
"The Rapid Response force and the federal police have liberated Jawsaq neighbourhood and now control the western end of the Fourth Bridge," said Brig Gen Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command overseeing the fight against ISIL.
"That means the bridge is under control on both sides," Brig Gen Rasool said.
The Fourth Bridge is the southernmost of five bridges linking western Mosul to the eastern half of the city across the Tigris river. All of the bridges were rendered unusable by US-led air strikes last year as part of a strategy to isolate the militants in the two halves of the city.
Government forces retook eastern Mosul from ISIL last month, completing a key phase in an offensive on the city that began on October 17 and has involved tens of thousands of fighters.
Engineering units are now expected to deploy a so-called "ribbon bridge" across the Tigris that will allow the connection of the western side’s active front lines to the east bank.
Brig Gen Rasool said the interior ministry’s Rapid Response force had retaken two neighbourhoods on the west bank, while forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service have retaken another further west.
"The street fighting is intense, these are populated neighbourhoods," he said. "But our forces are fighting deep in the west, the enemy is broken."
Iraq forces were also retaking desert territory south-west of the city to further cut off Mosul from ISIL-held territory in Syria.
"In general, all the troops are moving forward as planned and doing so rapidly," said Staff Lt Gen Abdelamir Yarallah. He was speaking from Talul Al Atshana, the highest point in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.
Mosul was ISIL’s last urban bastion in Iraq, and its recapture would crown more than two years of a bloody counter-offensive to retake the third of the country lost to ISIL in 2014.
ISIL fighters have taken up positions deep inside the western half of the city, and while Iraqi forces are still advancing steadily, the battle is expected to get tougher the closer they get to the centre. Some streets are too narrow for military vehicles and will oblige troops to advance on foot.
Iraqi helicopters and warplanes from the US-led coalition against ISIL have played a key role in recent gains, but the density of the civilian population in west Mosul limits air support. There were an estimated 750,000 civilians and about 2,000 militants in the area before the offensive on west Mosul began.
The United Nations food agency said accounts from people who had managed to flee were very alarming.
"We are hearing from some families that food has drastically risen in price and is unaffordable. In extreme cases, people cannot access food at all," said Sally Haydock, chief of the World Food Programme in Iraq.
The UN has said it was planning for a possible exodus of 250,000 people or more from west Mosul, yet only a few hundred families have fled their homes as Iraqi forces retook their neighbourhoods over the past week.
Some are unable to leave because ISIL uses them as human shields, while others decide against exposing themselves to crossfire or leaving their property unprotected.
Some residents may also be ISIL supporters willing to help the extremists in their last stand, or afraid to face arrest if they leave.

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