Iraqi forces enter Mosul as Islamic State fights back

Iraqi forces enter Mosul as Islamic State fights back
Iraq announced on Tuesday that its forces had entered Mosul for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the city more than two years ago.
3 min read
01 November, 2016
Iraqi Special Forces were reportedly on the outskirts of Mosul on Tuesday morning [AFP]
Iraq's Special Forces entered the outskirts of Mosul on Tuesday, taking the state television building and advancing despite fierce resistance by Islamic State group fighters who hold the city, an Iraqi general said.

It was the first time Iraqi troops have set foot in the city, Iraq's second largest, in over two years. The advance could be the start of a gruelling and slow operation for the troops, who will be forced to engage in difficult, house-to-house fighting in urban areas that is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Troops entered Gogjali, a neighbourhood inside Mosul's city limits, and by noon were only 800 metres (yards) from the more built-up Karama district, according to Major General Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi Special Forces.

"The Special Forces have stormed in," he said. "Daesh is fighting back and have set up concrete blast walls to block off the Karama neighbourhood and our troops' advance," he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. Bombs have been laid along the road into the city, he added.

Later, al-Aridi said the troops had taken the nearby state television building, the only one in the province, and that heavy fighting broke out when they tried to continue further in to built-up areas.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appeared on state television urging the Islamic State group to "surrender or die".

"We will close in on Daesh [IS] from all angles and God willing we will cut the snake's head. They will have no way out and no way to escape," al-Abadi said while dressed in combat fatigues.

Mosul was captured by the IS group in June 2014, after which the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his 'caliphate' from a mosque in the city.

The coalition offensive on Mosul began on October 17 and is expected to be a long and difficult battle to unseat the extremist group from their Iraqi stronghold.

According to the US military, IS has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters inside Mosul and another 1,500 to 2,500 in the city's outer defensive belt. The total number includes around 1,000 foreign fighters. 

While many IS fighters have stayed behind, over 17,000 of Mosul's residents have fled so far, with this number expected to rise dramatically as fighting intensifies.

Read more here: Mosul displacement could become a 'humanitarian disaster'

Last week, displaced civilians from Mosul began arriving in United Nations camps. The international body and aid agencies are now stepping up efforts to cater to those fleeing the conflict.

The UN's refugee agency has announced that it will be bringing in some 7,200 tents, as part of an effort to secure 50,000 tents and the same number of emergency shelter kits for displaced families.

"These airlifts are vital and will allow us to respond as soon as displaced Iraqis reach our camps and need shelter," said UNHCR's Representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo said in a statement.

With around 1.5 million civilians still remaining in Mosul, the UN's refugee agency said last week it will soon be ready to accommodate 150,000 people.

Agencies contributed to this report