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Heavy fighting in and around Mosul as Iraqi troops expand their foothold

Iraqi allied forces, numbering 100,000 and backed by US air power, are pressing into the IS stronghold. The militants are vastly outnumbered but are using bombers, snipers and ambushes to fight back.

A suicide car bomber sent by the Islamic State (IS) group struck Iraqi special-forces Saturday in Mosul, sparking heavy fighting in the strategic city in the northern Iraq.

The early morning attack occurred in the Qadisiya neighborhood, and triggered a barrage of gunfire, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, Iraqi officers said. They added that fighting was also taking place in the adjoining Arbajiya neighborhood.

But backed by US and Iraqi air power Iraqi special-forces appear to have taken control of the two districts after killing 30 militants, three rocket launchers and destroying nine car bombs sent on suicide missions by the IS.

 

Irak Kampf um Mossul (picture-alliance/dpa)

Iraqi forces in the recaptured town of Hammam al-Alil

For more than a week Iraq's infantry and armored division troops have been trying to expand their small foothold in the city that IS has controlled since the middle of 2014 when their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a Muslim caliphate across parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.

An alliance of 100,000 Iraqi fighters supported by thousands of Western personnel on the ground is trying to drive IS out of the biggest city under its control in either country.

They're up against just a few thousand militants but they're facing stiff resistance in the form of suicide car bombers, assault fighters, snipers and rocket fire.

Tunnels and ambushes

IS fighters have, at times, melted into the city's population of 1.5 million and used a network of tunnels around the city to launch surprise raids and ambushes.

A statement issued by the military said the Counter Terrorism Service took control of the districts of al-Qadisiya al-Thania on Friday, as well as the adjacent al-Arbajiya.

To the south, troops from the First Infantry and Ninth Armored divisions attacked militants in the Salam neighborhood.

Military forces are closing in on Mosul from the north and south, aiming to open new fronts inside the city in order to put added pressure on the jihadists.

The Iraqi forces are made up of Iraqi army troops, special-forces and federal police units. Outside the city, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are holding territory to the northeast while predominantly Shi'ite paramilitary forces are positioned to the west.

They're being supported by US-led air power, including jets and Apache helicopters, as well as Western military advisers who have accompanied Iraqi forces to the edge of Mosul.

The International Organization for Migration said 49,000 people have been displaced during the latest round of fighting by the conflict, which is the most complex military operation in more than a decade of conflict - since the 2003 US invasion toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  

bik/rc (AP, Reuters)

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