Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Iraqi forces launch push to retake western Mosul

LONG BATTLE ANTICIPATED:Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation on television, and urged government forces to respect human rights


Iraqi security forces yesterday advance toward the western side of Mosul, Iraq.

Photo: Reuters

US-backed Iraqi forces yesterday launched a large-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State group militants from the western half of Mosul, a battle that is expected to be prolonged and difficult due to a densely packed civilian population and older, narrower streets.

In a briefed televised speech on state TV, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation, saying the government forces were moving to “liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression and terrorism forever,” using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Al-Abadi called on security forces to deal with civilians properly and respect human rights.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising into the sky early yesterday morning as US-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized police fired artillery toward the city.

Heavily armed police units were getting ready to move north with their armored vehicles from a base just southwest of the city.

“This is zero hour and we are going to end this war, God willing,” police officer Mahmoud Mansour said as he prepared to move out.

The immediate objective of the operation was to take the villages on the southern outskirts of Mosul airport, a police spokesman told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with standard procedures.

Police units quickly moved into the village of Athba southwest of the city’s airport, encountering only light resistance, according to a reporter on the scene.

Separately, the army’s 9th armored division moved into the village of Bakhira, also southwest of the city, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said.

Shortly after the announcement, the UN warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside their houses “are at extreme risk” with dwindling fuel and food supplies and scare drinking water and electricity.

“The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande said in a statement. “We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes.”

Citing informants from inside the western side, the UN said nearly half of all food shops were closed and bakeries had shut down due to a lack of fuel and an inability to purchase costly flour. Prices of kerosene and cooking gas have skyrocketed and many of the most destitute families are burning wood, furniture, plastic or garbage for cooking and heating.

Humanitarian agencies were gearing up to aid 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee due to fighting, the statement said.

The UN estimates that about 750,000 civilians may be left in western Mosul.

The commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, US Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, hailed the Iraqi forces in a statement as an “increasingly capable, formidable, and professional force.”

“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge,” Townsend said.

“They have taken the fight to the enemy and sacrificed their blood for the people of Iraq and the rest of the world,” he said.

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