IS-held Mosul pounded by Kurdish rockets
Peshmerga forces are inching closer to Mosul, while the fighters of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) operating in Iraq's second most populous city are feeling the heat on the front line.
The city is now in the range of Kurdish artillery, and, for the first time since the war began, Mosul was hit by projectiles from a Peshmerga BM-21 Grad rocket launcher over the weekend. At least 13 civilians are understood to have been killed during the assault.
Kurdish TV reported that IS command posts in central Mosul had been targeted after it emerged that senior IS leadership were meeting in the city's Zuhour neighbourhood. IS issued a statement vowing to strongly respond to the attack.
The Peshmerga, backed by coalition airstrikes, have captured large areas around Mosul and Nineveh province. Kurdish forces have also been boosted by the supply of modern weaponry from Europe and Iran.
"Our forces have advanced on the city and delivered heavy losses through the shelling, which has demoralised the IS militants," said a Peshmerga statement.
|Our forces have advanced on the city and delivered heavy losses through the shelling.
- Peshmerga statement
It was also announced that the Peshmerga have taken control of the villages of Shandoukha and al-Qadisia close to Mosul dam.
Brigadier Ezz al-Din Sourji, the Peshmerga field commander at the Mosul dam, told al-Araby that the US-led alliance had bombed Mosul as the Peshmerga rockets landed on the city.
"We are carrying out this kind of operation for the first time, which has been a big achievement for us," said Sourji. "We have not received any information about deaths of civilians in the bombing. We used Grad rockets and heavy artillery in the attack."
Dr Nihad Saadi, of Mosul general hospital, said 13 civilians were killed and 44 injured in the bombing on the central Mosul districts of Zuhour and al-Islah.
"Among the dead were four children, a woman and an elderly man, who were in shop when a rocket struck," said Dr Saadi. "Another rocket hit a chlorine water sterilisation plant, causing a large gas leak that suffocated many people."
Eyewitnesses also reported a mass funeral for Mosul civilians, during which crowds denounced the Peshmerga and the US-led coalition.
The Soviet-designed BM-21 Grad launch vehicles are an effective weapon for mountainous areas in northern Iraq, and a huge boost to the Peshmerga arsenal.
Kurdish sources said that the rockets were supplied by Iran as part of an aid deal, which reached Erbil at the end of the year.
A senior Kurdish ministry official told al-Araby the new rockets were different from the Grad rocket systems used by IS, which were captured from the Syrian and Iraqi armies.
|The new weapons that have arrived in the region will help tip the balance in the coming days.
- Anonymous Kurdish official
"The new weapons that have arrived in the region will help tip the balance in the coming days," he said.
Vows of revenge
IS said it would launch a "stinging" response to the rocket attack in a Twitter statement.
Sources say that IS troops in Mosul were reinforced on Sunday by hundreds of fighters from Syria.
"IS has moved military vehicles and fighters and gathered them in areas outside Mosul in the north and east," said Farhan al-Majoul, a local tribal leader. "It is highly likely it will launch a counter attack against the Peshmerga in retaliation for Saturday’s attack."
The tribal leader said that IS had mobilised its elite Abu Dujana al-Ansari battalion, as the US appear to have stepped up air attacks.
This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.