#MosulOps: Iraqi troops pause advance against IS

#MosulOps: Iraqi troops pause advance against IS
Iraqi forces have earned a foothold on a sliver of territory in eastern Mosul from which they will consider their next move against Islamic State fighters
4 min read
10 November, 2016
Government forces are considering their next move in Mosul [AFP]
Iraqi troops have paused their advance against Islamic State-held Mosul after earning a foothold on the eastern outskirts of the city.

US-backed forces fired automatic weapons at IS positions on Thursday and worked to clear neighbourhoods occupied by the extremists, but will regroup before pushing deeper into the city.

Special forces control the eastern Zahra neighborhood of Mosul proper, once named after former dictator Saddam Hussein, military officials told AP.

They have taken at least half of the Aden neighborhood and clashes were still ongoing there, while the regular army's ninth division is stationed in east Mosul's Intisar neighborhood, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity. Skirmishes also continued in the city's southern outskirts.

Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led forces operating the air campaign against IS, said that advancing troops and aircraft have destroyed some 70 tunnels the militants had been using to launch surprise attacks from inside densely populated areas.

"They've set up elaborate defences, and we have to assume they'll do anything among the civilian population because they don't care about anyone," he said.

Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, the country's second largest city and the last major IS stronghold in Iraq.

Kurdish peshmerga forces are holding a line outside the city in the north, while Iraqi army and militarised police units approach from the south, and government-backed Shia militias are guarding the western approaches.

The offensive has slowed in recent days as the special forces, the troops who have advanced the farthest, push into more densely populated areas of the city's east, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians who have been told to stay in their homes.

More than 42,000 people have been displaced in the fighting and are settling in camps and host communities in nearby provinces.

Troops are trying to screen the crowds for potential IS fighters attempting to sneak out among the civilians, and some have admitted to meting out what they consider swift justice - by executing them.

On Thursday, Amnesty International urged the government to investigate and stop cases of arbitrary detention, forced disappearances and ill-treatment of prisoners over suspected ties to IS.

To the northeast, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the city, peshmerga continued to take territory in the town of Bashiqa, believed to be largely deserted except for dozens of IS fighters. The town has been surrounded for weeks and attacked with mortar and artillery fire.

They want to give a message to the world, and that message is damage, their message is destruction, their message is death

At an area church in territory newly liberated from the militants' grip, priests rang bells for the first time in two years on Wednesday as the peshmerga worked to secure the town.

"We are so happy at the liberation," said the Reverend Elkhoury Alfaran Elkhoury at the Mart Shoomy Church in Bahzani, a village near Bashiqa.

"They want to give a message to the world, and that message is damage, their message is destruction, their message is death," he said, highlighting damage to the church made by the militants while they occupied the area.

In New York, the UN said the progress meant that the days were numbered for the self-styled caliphate declared by IS from Mosul in 2014.

"This liberation operation marks the beginning of the end of the so-called 'Daesh caliphate' in Iraq," the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Wednesday, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

Jan Kubis said the UN's humanitarian agencies were preparing to shelter even more of the tens of thousands of displaced people as winter approaches. He also warned that reconciliation and restoration of confidence in the government was necessary if the victories against IS are to be lasting.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, bombings killed at least ten people and wounded 38 others, according to police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The capital has seen near-daily bombings since the Mosul operation began, but no large-scale attacks. IS frequently targets Iraq's security forces and Shia majority as part of its campaign to destabilise the country.