'IS' militants are fighting back as Iraqi forces continue to gain ground in the last major jihadist-held stronghold in Iraq. But in a boost for the government, Shiite militias have taken control of a key nearby airfield.
A commander of Iraqi special forces advancing into the eastern districts of Mosul said on Saturday that his troops were facing stiff resistance from militants of the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS), who were using snipers, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds in a bid to stop the advance.
Major General Sami al-Aridi said government troops had pushed into the neighborhoods of Muharabeen and Ulama at dawn Saturday after liberating the adjacent Tahrir neighborhood on Friday, as they continue their attempt to retake Mosul. The city has been held by the jihadists since the summer of 2014.
Iraqi armed forces began their offensive to recapture the city on October 17, fighting alongside Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Sunni tribes and Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitary forces. Their campaign is being backed by air and ground support from a US-led coalition.
A spokesman for the Shiite Hezbollah Brigades meanwhile said that Shiite militias had taken full control of the Tal Afar military airfield to the east of Mosul on Friday evening. Jaafar al-Husseini said the airfield, which was almost totally destroyed in clashes, would serve as an important base for the troops in their advance on Mosul.
In a setback for government-allied troops on Saturday, IS militants killed seven Sunni tribal fighters and five policemen in Shirqat, a Sunni town between Mosul and the capital, Baghdad, local security sources said.
Late on Friday, a group of jihadists also attacked the village of Imam Gharbi, south of Mosul. An officer speaking on condition of anonymity said they controlled it for several hours until aerial support was requested from the US-led international coalition. He said three policemen, including an officer, lost their lives in clashes and several suicide bombings, and nine IS fighters also died.
Mosul is Iraq's second-largest city, and its recapture would be a huge blow to IS, a Sunni extremist group that aspires to create a "caliphate" stretching across the Middle East.
The United Nations says more than 56,000 civilians have been forced from their homes since the operation to retake the city began.
tj/jm (Reuters, AP)