Iraqi forces have pushed into the western parts of Mosul, opening a new front in the offensive against the "Islamic State" group. Iraq wants to have the entire city liberated by the end of May 2017.
Both the Iraqi army and federal police divisions were reported to be participating in the new push for the liberation of Mosul. However, Islamic State group fighters were still said to be holding onto a number of neighborhoods in that particular area of the country's second city. The US-led international coalition is providing key air and ground support to the offensive on the Islamic State's de facto capital in Iraq.
Iraqi forces are hoping to move closer to Mosul's Old City, where IS jihadists are keeping countless civilians hostage to use as human shields in battle. Iraqi forces now seem to be moving closer to the Old City in apparent anticipation of an operation to clear it.
Deaths and injuries among civilians in Mosul have been skyrocketing as IS employs them as human shield
The spokesman for Iraq's Ministry of Defense, Yahya Rasool, meanwhile commented that the country's forces were happily facing "victory or martyrdom," in the battle against IS. "Now your sons are fighting and striking the enemy's defenses... They rejoice in victory or martyrdom for the sake of liberating the rest of the city of Mosul from Daesh (IS) terrorists," the statement read in full.
The neighborhoods of Musharifah, Kanisah and Al-Haramat were especially targeted at the beginning of the new offensive, and the outlying village of Hsunah was recaptured by the forces. The new operation opens a second front in the effort to regain control of Mosul. The Iraqi army said on April 30 that it aimed to finish the battle for Mosul before the end of May.
A slow and deadly offensive
Slowly but surely, Iraqi forces have been celebrating significant gains in the push for the city's liberation. Eastern parts of the city were declared as "liberated" earlier in the year, as IS now controls less than seven percent of Iraq, a number down from more than a third of Iraq's territory in 2014.
Iraq's federal police were reported to be just a few hundred meters (yards) away from Mosul's al-Nuri mosque located on the southern edge of Mosul's western sections. The recapture of the mosque would be a huge boost in morale, as this is the site where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had made a rare public appearance in July 2014, declaring the Islamic State's self-styled caliphate in Iraq and in neighboring Syria.
The fight for Mosul has, however, been deadly to Iraqi forces and civilians caught in the crossfire alike, with the fight for the Old City expected to incur devastating losses. Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, said during a US congressional hearing in March that the offensive had left 774 Iraqi security forces dead and 4,600 wounded. Iraq's military has not released any information on casualties.
The United Nations said the six months of fighting saw at least 8,000 civilians killed in Mosul, based on information gather from hospitals. The actual number is likely to be significantly higher. The UN has said it believes that close to 420,000 people might be trapped in the densely populated Old City of Mosul. Another 600,000 have been displaced since the start of the offensive, according to information from Iraq's Immigration Ministry.
The IS fighters have, in recent days, carried out a number attacks against security forces in the western Iraqi province of Anbar. At least 26 members of the army, police, tribal forces and border guard died in the attacks.
Observers warn that jihadists could increasingly resort to using guerrilla tactics and bomb civilian targets, as anti-IS forces are also pressing a major offensive on their last major bastion of the terrorist group in Syria, the city of Raqqa.
ss/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)