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Iraqi troops fortify positions in freed Mosul areas

But their advance toward Mosul’s city center was slowed by sniper fire and suicide bombings

Published: Updated:

Iraqi troops on Sunday fortified their positions in Mosul neighborhoods retaken from ISIS as their advance toward the city center was slowed by sniper fire and suicide bombings, as well as concern over the safety of civilians.

“The biggest hindrance to us is the civilians, whose presence is slowing us down,” Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the special forces told The Associated Press. “We are soldiers who are not trained to carry out humanitarian tasks.”

A few hundred civilians emerged from rubble-strewn front-line neighborhoods on Sunday. They included women and children, some of them carrying bags, small suitcases or waving white flags. Mosul is still home to more than 1 million people.

The government sent half-dozen trucks loaded with food aid into the recently liberated areas. Chaos broke out in one neighborhood, where residents climbed on top of the trucks and began helping themselves. Women extended their hands in desperation, trying to get a share of the aid. Young boys chased the trucks and jostled and pleaded for food packages.

“It’s hunger that makes people behave like this,” said Mohammed Farouq, a 27-year-old resident. “Some families took many boxes, while others did not take any. This is unfair.”

Fethi Mahmud Abdulla, another resident, pleaded for people to keep the lines. “People are tired, so tired. Some of them take aid five or seven times,” he said.

Counterterrorism units

Counterterrorism units entered into the left coast of Mosul in Iraq amid fierce clashes against members of ISIS.

The unit’s forces fighting in the eastern axis of the city managed to liberate the neighborhoods of al-Moharebeen, al-Moalmeen and al-Oalmaa.

According to a statement issued by the commanders of the “We are coming Nineveh” operation, forces fighting ISIS continue liberating the neighborhoods of al-Bakr, al-Zahabiya, al-Khadra, al-Qadisiya al-Oula, al-Tahrir and al-Walaa.

Meanwhile, the army’s ninth division continues to progress south east of Mosul in the neighborhoods of the left coast and continues to liberate the neighborhoods which it stormed in the past few days.

A member of forces from Iraq's elite Rapid Response Division patrols on November 19, 2016 in the village of Tall Adh-Dhahab, located some 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Mosul.
A member of forces from Iraq's elite Rapid Response Division patrols on November 19, 2016 in the village of Tall Adh-Dhahab, located some 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Mosul.

It has also seized control of some towns towards the north of Nimrud.

Federal police forces clashed with ISIS members in south west of the city as the latter tried to seize control of areas in the eastern district of al-Shirqat. The battles ended with the death of many ISIS members and the police forces seized control.

Joint forces progressed in the southern axis and reached Mosul’s borders and they will later try and head to Mosul’s airport which is few kilometers away from them.

Mosul casualties overwhelm aid groups

Mounting civilian casualties from fighting in eastern Mosul between Iraqi forces and ISIS are overwhelming the capacity of the government and international aid groups, the United Nations said on Saturday.

Nearly 200 wounded civilians and military personnel were transferred to hospital last week, the highest level since the campaign to push the extremists out of their last major stronghold in Iraq began on Oct. 17, said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.

The proportion of civilians among the wounded also appears to be on the rise, reaching 20 percent in the first month of the offensive, according to a Department of Health official, though part of the increase is likely due to improved access to areas newly retaken from ISIS.

“Authorities are doing everything they can to help but there isn’t sufficient trauma capacity at the field level to deal with the numbers of people being wounded by sharp-shooters and snipers and in crossfire. Civilians are being targeted by ISIS,” she told Reuters.

A 100,000-strong alliance of Iraqi forces, with air and ground support from a US-led coalition, have nearly surrounded Mosul but so far only breached the extremists’ defenses from the eastern side, establishing a small foothold inside the city.

An elderly Mosul resident is treated for shrapnel wounds to his head at an Iraqi Special Forces 2nd division open air field clinic in the Samah neighbourhood of Mosul on November 17, 2016. Iraqi forces have broken into jihadist-held Mosul and recaptured neighbourhoods inside the city, but a month into their offensive, there are still weeks or more of potentially heavy fighting ahead. The medical point saw a spike in patients today with dozens coming through in a few hours among them several children and 5 fatalities. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP
An elderly Mosul resident is treated for shrapnel wounds to his head at an Iraqi Special Forces 2nd division open air field clinic in the Samah neighbourhood of Mosul on November 17, 2016. Iraqi forces have broken into jihadist-held Mosul and recaptured neighbourhoods inside the city, but a month into their offensive, there are still weeks or more of potentially heavy fighting ahead. The medical point saw a spike in patients today with dozens coming through in a few hours among them several children and 5 fatalities. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

Militants are dug in among more than a million civilians as a defense tactic to hamper air strikes. They are moving around the city through tunnels, driving suicide car bombs into advancing troops and hitting them with sniper and mortar fire.

The Iraqi authorities do not release comprehensive casualty statistics, but the UN figures probably represent just a fraction of the total as they capture only the most severe cases that cannot be treated on site, and do not include fatalities.

“We are very worried that more and more civilians will be hurt and victimized as the campaign intensifies,” said Grande. “Civilians are not being caught in cross-fire, they are being targeted.”

(with Reuters, Associated Press)