Iraqi forces few kilometers away from Mosul

A convoy of armored vehicles belonging to international coalition troops drive during the operation against ISIS militants outside the town of Naweran near Mosul, Iraq October 23, 2016. (Reuters)

Backed by the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces are now three to seven kilometers away from Mosul as the battle to liberate Iraq’s second largest city enters its second weak, Al Arabiya News Channel’s correspondent reported.

Also, as Iraq’s anti-terrorism forces begin its attacks on two villages in the eastern part of Mosul, ISIS took control of the isolated desert town of Rutba in the western province of Anbar in a bid to distract Iraqi forces attacking Mosul, ISIS’s last major city stronghold in Iraq, the correspondent added.

Rutba, considered to be a small remote western town but strategic as it is close to the Jordanian border, witnessed on Monday the “execution” of five Iraqis, including members of the security forces, during ongoing fighting, army officers said.

ISIS militants launched the attack on Rutba early on Sunday.

They initially briefly seized the mayor’s office before being pinned back by the security forces but were still deployed in other neighborhoods of the town, the officers said.

“Daesh (ISIS) controls Mithaq and Intisar neighborhoods in central Rutba,” an army colonel told AFP.

ISIS continue to open new battle spheres as Iraqi forces attempt to weaken them before the storming of Mosul, the country’s second largest city, from its eastern side.

Yazidis stave off attack on Sinjar

US-backed Kurdish fighters have also blocked an offensive launched by ISIS on Monday in Sinjar, a Yazidi territory west of Mosul, a provincial official in the region said.

ISIS confirmed in an online statement having carried out a suicide attack on a peshmerga position at the western entrance of Sinjar.

“It was the most violent attack on Sinjar since a year ago,” Yazidi provincial chief Mahma Xelil told Reuters.

ISIS committed some of its worst atrocities in Sinjar when it swept through the Yazidi region two years ago, killing men, kidnapping children and enslaving women. Kurdish fighters took back the region a year ago.

Xelil said at least 15 militants were killed in the two-hour battle and a number of vehicles they used in the attack were destroyed, while the peshmerga suffered two wounded.

ISIS said two peshmerga vehicles were destroyed and all those on board were killed.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched an offensive on Mosul a week ago, with air and ground backing from the US-led military coalition.

It was from Mosul’s Grand Mosque in 2014 that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate over parts of Syria and Iraq.

The region of Nineveh around Mosul is a mosaic of ethnic and religious groups - Arabs, Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Sunnis, Shiites - with Sunni Arabs the overwhelming majority.

The Yazidis are a religious sect whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions and who speak one of the Kurdish languages.

21,000 people fled Kirkuk’s Huwaijah

Meanwhile, about 21,000 civilians have fled Al-Huwaijah district in the disputed city of Kirkuk to Al-Shirqat, a town in the eastern province of Salah al-Din in Iraq, a mayor told Al Arabiya News Channel on Monday.

Ali Dodah, Shirqat’s mayor described the influx of the people as “unexpected,” warning of a humanitarian crisis.

Dodah made his statement after Kirkuk’s provincial governor said Iraqi security forces on Monday ended an ISIS attack on the city, killing at least 74 militants in three days of clashes.

“The attack is over and life has returned to normal,” Najmeddin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk province, told AFP.

Karim said the initial confessions of the ringleader confirmed reports that around 100 fighters attacked Kirkuk early Friday, some of them sleeper cells that joined up with militants infiltrating the city.

Some attackers are also believed to have fled the city on Saturday, later clashing with security forces in rural areas east of Kirkuk.

The spectacular attack led to three days of clashes that left at least 46 people dead, mostly members of the security forces, and the Kurdish-controlled city under curfew.

The brazen raid on Kirkuk, which lies in an oil-rich area around 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad, appeared to be an attempt by ISIS to divert attention from Mosul.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi forces are pressing a week-old offensive on Iraq’s second city, which is also the militants’ last major stronghold in the country.

Meanwhile, a government official said Kirkuk’s Huwaijah and Sahil areas are still under ISIS control.

‘Most US-led strikes yet’

Meanwhile, the US-led coalition battling ISIS has unleashed an unprecedented wave of air strikes in support of Iraq’s operation to retake Mosul, American officials said Monday.

A week after Iraqi forces launched the offensive to push ISIS from their last major bastion in the country, the US envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition said on Monday that the air war had reached its highest level yet.
“All objectives met thus far and more coalition air strikes than any other 7-day period of war against ISIL,” Brett McGurk said on Twitter, using another acronym for ISIS.

“There were 32 strikes with 1,776 munitions delivered against Daesh (ISIS) targets for the week of October 17-October 23,” the spokesman for the coalition, Colonel John Dorrian, told AFP.

Dorrian stressed that each strike may include multiple targets over a period of hours.

“These engagements destroyed 136 Daesh fighting positions, destroyed 18 tunnels that the enemy has been using to hide and infiltrate areas, and destroyed 26 vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, among other targets,” he said.

US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter was in Iraq on Saturday and Sunday to review the military operation, the largest in the country since US forces withdrew in 2011.

The United States leads a 60-nation coalition -- which also includes Britain and France -- that has provided support in the form of thousands of air strikes, training for Iraqi forces and advisers on the ground.

According to Pentagon figures, the coalition has carried out more than 15,800 strikes since the operation was launched in August 2014, including some 10,200 in Iraq and about 5,600 in Syria.

(With Reuters, AFP)

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