Wed, Jul 05, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Militants strike back in fight for Mosul

UNSURPRISING TACTICS:Monday’s two suicide bombings against Iraqi troops followed three other such attacks by women — some of them teenagers — the previous two days

AP, MOSUL, Iraq

An Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Services member patrols the Old City of Mosul on Monday during an ongoing offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State group.

Photo: AFP

With the fight for Mosul in its final stage, Islamic State group militants on Monday sent female suicide bombers hidden among fleeing civilians, while Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition unleashed punishing airstrikes and artillery fire that set dozens of buildings ablaze.

At least one Iraqi soldier was killed and five were wounded in the two separate suicide attacks, the military said.

On Sunday, a bomber in women’s clothing killed 14 people at a camp for displaced residents in Anbar province, an official said. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

“These tactics don’t surprise me,” said Sergeant Ahmed Fadil, who patrolled Mosul’s Old City just 50m from the front line.

The militants “have nowhere to go. They’re trapped,” he said.

Monday’s two suicide bombings against Iraqi soldiers followed three other such attacks by women — some of them teenagers — the previous two days, Sergeant Ali Abdullah Hussein said.

A soldier displayed the school ID card retrieved from the body of one of the bombers, showing her to be only 15. The photograph was of serious young woman in a white hijab and indicated she had studied in Bangladesh.

“Most of the people who blew themselves up today are women,” special forces Lieutenant Colonel Salam Hussein said.

He added that seven women strapped with explosives approached troops on Monday, “but thank God, our units stopped [them].”

Government troops advancing through the Old City were using rougher tactics to clear the remaining pockets of Islamic State group forces.

The tempo of airstrikes was so great that coalition aircraft could not keep up with the requests for air support from Iraqi ground forces. Instead, they sought approval for artillery strikes.

Associated Press drone footage showed the result — dozens of buildings burning in the Old City.

While shops have reopened and civilian traffic fills the streets in retaken neighborhoods, thick black smoke continued to rise just a few kilometers away from Islamic State-held territory on the bank of the Tigris River that divides Iraq’s second-largest city. The area controlled by the militants is less than a square kilometer.

Islamic State militants swiftly overran Mosul in 2014. The US-backed offensive to retake the city was launched in October last year and has proceeded slowly, even though Iraqi political and military officials had vowed to declare victory by the end of last year.

Iraqi forces began their push to retake the Old City in the middle of last month.

Even though the militants are squeezed into smaller and smaller territory, the danger remains for units like Fadil’s.

When they heard cries from civilians just around the corner, he and his colleagues rushed their commanding officer to safety into a nearby home that had already been cleared. They yelled at the group of sobbing women and children to hurry past.

Fadil explained the reason for their caution.

“They cry and then — boom. They explode themselves,” he said. “The closer we get to victory, the more suicide bombers they will send.”

At one screening point, soldiers anxiously held civilians back at gunpoint, shouting at men and boys to strip to their underwear.

Hussein and a group of about a dozen men searched on foot for more suicide bombers. An informant pointed out a house occupied by Islamic State fighters.

A soldier kicked in a door, shouted a warning and threw two grenades into the front room.

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