In dawn assault, Iraqi special forces near Mosul from east

2016-10-31 16:29
Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces advance toward ISIS positions as fighting to retake Mosul. (Khalid Mohammed, AP)

Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces advance toward ISIS positions as fighting to retake Mosul. (Khalid Mohammed, AP)

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Bazwaya — Iraqi special forces advanced on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul from the east on Monday, taking heavy fire but entering the last ISIS-held village before the city's eastern limits and clearing a path that was followed by army units.

Armoured vehicles, including Abrams tanks, drew mortar and small arms fire as they moved on the village of Bazwaya in the dawn assault, while allied artillery and airstrikes hit ISIS positions.

Car bombers are trying to stop the advance, but the troops, just 3km from Mosul's eastern outskirts, aim to enter it later in the day, said Brigadier General Haider Fadhil. The army said another unit, its ninth division, had moved up toward Mosul and was now approximately 5km from its eastern outskirts.

At one point, a Humvee packed with explosives raced ahead in an attempt to ram the forces, but Iraqi troops opened fire on it, setting off the charge and blowing up the vehicle. Plumes of smoke rose in the air from ISIS positions hit by artillery and airstrikes.

Iraqi state television described the operation as a "battle of honour" to liberate the city, captured by ISIS from a superior yet neglected Iraqi force in 2014.

Some residents hung white flags on buildings and from windows in a sign they would not resist the government troops, said Major Salam al-Obeidi, a member of the special forces operation in Bazwaya. He said troops were requesting that villagers stay inside their homes as Iraqi forces made their way through the streets, as a precaution against potential suicide bombers.

For two weeks, Iraqi forces and their Kurdish allies, Sunni tribesmen and Shi’ite militias have been converging on Mosul from all directions to drive ISIS from Iraq's second largest city. The operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Since the offensive began on October 17, Iraqi forces moving toward the city have made uneven progress. Advances have been slower in the south, with government forces there still 35km from the city.

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

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on his website on Monday that he would be visiting troops near the front line.

A day earlier, thousands of fighters flocked to join Iraq's state-sanctioned, Iran-backed Shi’ite militias who aim to cut off Mosul from the west. In a series of apparent retaliation attacks, bombers on Sunday struck in five of Baghdad's mostly Shiite neighbourhoods, killing at least 17 people.

The deadliest of the explosions, a parked car bomb, hit a popular fruit and vegetable market near a school in the northwestern Hurriyah area, killing at least 10 and wounding 34. On Monday, ISIS issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq

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