Iraq pushes into town near Mosul

2016-10-22 17:07
Iraq's elite counterterrorism force soldiers raise an Iraqi flag over the main church in Bartella, Iraq. (Khalid Mohammed, AP)

Iraq's elite counterterrorism force soldiers raise an Iraqi flag over the main church in Bartella, Iraq. (Khalid Mohammed, AP)

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Bartella - Iraqi forces pushed into a town near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul on Saturday after a wave of militant attacks in and around the northern city of Kirkuk set off more than 24 hours of heavy clashes, with ongoing skirmishes in some areas.

US Defence Secretary Ash Carter meanwhile arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit to meet Iraqi commanders to discuss the offensive to retake Mosul, which the US is supporting with airstrikes and advisers on the ground.

Heavily mined

The Iraqi army said the 9th Division had pushed into the town of Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh and Bakhdida and raised the flag over its central government compound, but the troops were likely still facing resistance in and around the town. Similar past announcements have often proved premature.

Two officers from the 9th Division confirmed troops had captured the government compound and raised the flag over it.

The town is around 20km from Mosul. Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale offensive earlier this week aimed at retaking Mosul, the country's second largest city, which fell to ISIS in 2014.

Hamdaniyah is believed to be largely uninhabited. ISIS has heavily mined the approaches to Mosul and Iraqi forces have had to contend with roadside bombs, snipers and suicide truck bombs as they move closer to the city.

ISIS said it foiled an attack on Hamdaniyah and seized vehicles and weapons left by retreating Shi'ite militiamen. The claim, carried by the extremist group's Aamaq news agency, could not be confirmed.

An Iraqi television station says one of its reporters was shot dead near Mosul, the second journalist in as many days to be killed while covering the conflict.

Renamed streets

Iraqi forces retook the town of Bartella, about 15km east of Mosul, earlier this week, but are still facing pockets of resistance in the area.

Islamic State militants launched a rocket and opened fire on an Iraqi convoy near the town on Saturday and the Iraqi special forces in the convoy returned fire. No one was wounded in the exchange, but it highlighted the dangers Iraqi forces face in areas that have recently been retaken from the militants.

Inside Bartella, a road extending more than 100m was completely demolished, with all the homes on either side reduced to rubble. ISIS graffiti was scrawled across the walls and the militants appeared to have renamed streets and neighbourhoods after famous fighters during the more than two years they controlled the area.

In Kirkuk, meanwhile, some fighting continued a day after ISIS launched a massive attack in and around the city, about 170km southeast of Mosul. The assault appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from Mosul.

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq  |  us

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