Iraqi forces fight IS in Mosul’s Old City

‘PENURY AND PANIC’::Militants have captured civilians to be used as human shields and forced them into the Old City, where they might now number 100,000, the UN said


Mon, Jun 19, 2017 - Page 4

Iraqi forces yesterday launched an assault to retake Mosul’s Old City and push out the Islamic State (IS) group, three years after the extremists seized the city and announced a “caliphate.”

“The army, counter-terrorism forces and federal police launched an attack on the Old City,” Iraqi Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah said in a statement.

Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a senior commander with the Iraqi Special Operations Force, confirmed the “start of the assault on the Old City.”

Iraqi forces backed by airstrikes from a US-led coalition are pressing an offensive to retake the Old City on the west side of the city from the extremists.

“The initial airstrikes started at around midnight. The security forces started storming parts of the Old City at dawn,” an officer with Nineveh Operations Command said.

Machinegun fire crackled and plumes of smoke from missiles rose above the Old City.

However, across the Tigris River, on Mosul’s east bank, life went on almost as usual, with shoppers, students and workers pushing through traffic jams.

Taking back the Old City, a densely populated warren of narrow alleyways on the western side of Mosul, is crucial to recapturing the whole of the former IS bastion.

Iraqi forces launched the battle for Mosul in October last year, retaking the eastern part of the city in January and starting the operation for its western part the next month.

The UN on Friday said that IS militants might be holding civilians as human shields in the Old City.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Iraq representative Bruno Geddo said the IS had been capturing civilians and forcing them into the Old City.

“More than 100,000 civilians may still be held in the Old City,” Geddo told reporters in Geneva.

“We know that ISIS moved them with them as they left... locations where the fighting was going on,” he said, using another acronym for the IS. “These civilians are basically held as human shields in the Old City.”

With virtually no food, water or electricity left in the area, the civilians are “living in an increasingly worsening situation of penury and panic,” he said. “They are surrounded by fighting on every side.”

Since the battle to retake Mosul began nine months ago, an estimated 862,000 people have been displaced from the city, although 195,000 have since returned, mainly to the liberated east of the city.

The extremists overran Mosul and swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The fall of Mosul was the worst defeat that Iraqi forces suffered in the war with the IS and regaining it would cap a major turnaround for security forces, who broke and ran despite outnumbering the militants who attacked the city in 2014.

The Iraqi security forces have since recaptured much of the territory seized by the IS, including three cities, and have retaken most of Mosul, the fourth and largest.

The IS is also under pressure in its last Syrian stronghold, Raqa, where US-backed Kurdish-Arab forces have also been advancing in an offensive to retake the city.