The Iraqi government is struggling to get aid supplies to civilians trapped near the front line in the city of Mosul. More than six weeks in, the battle to retake the city from rebel fighters is proceeding slowly.
In the Shaimaa neighborhood of the Iraqi city of Mosul, soldiers and fighters with the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) exchanged heavy gunfire from rooftops on Sunday. Iraqi forces tried to advance down narrow residential streets as IS militants shelled the district with a heavy barrage of mortar rounds, according to reporters with The Associated Press at the scene.
Iraqi special forces set up a tight security perimeter around an aid distribution point in the Bakr neighborhood and screened the civilians as gunfire echoed nearby.
Only a small number of aid trucks could reach the area, as hundreds of men and women lined up along a residential street to receive boxes of aid, drinking water and cooking gas canisters from Iraqi special forces. There were some reports of fighting over the scarce supplies.
"We are desperate, this is the first time I've seen aid trucks," said resident Abu Ahmed.
"Our lives used to be very normal, we would just go to work and come home at the end of the day," Younis Shamal, a teenager from Mosul, told AP. "This has turned us into uncivilized people."
Ambulances and armored vehicles carrying wounded soldiers drove past after an IS suicide car bomb struck a nearby army position. A senior officer in the Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) said its troops battled on Sunday to clear IS fighters from one eastern Mosul district, using heavy machine guns and rockets.
"Since early morning our troops have been clearing out around 40 'Islamic State' militants," said Iraqi Lieutenant General Abdul Wahhab al-Saidi. "It's an ongoing operation and we have killed most of the militants."
Some 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish security forces and mainly Shiite paramilitary forces are reported to be participating in the assault on Mosul that began in mid-October with air and ground support from the US-led military coalition.
Diaa Sallal, a senior Iraqi relief official, told The Associated Press that supplies were being delivered to the towns of Bartella and Qayara, near Mosul, as well as two outlying Mosul neighborhoods.
Scores of families have braved the fighting to escape IS-held districts for the relative safety of city areas retaken by Iraqi forces. Some have moved further afield to UN centers such as the one set up 85 kilometers (52 miles) east of Mosul near Erbil.
Fighting beyond Mosul
The fighting has not been confined to Mosul. On Sunday, two militants tried to attack army barracks in the western province of Anbar. Police and army officials said the attackers were killed before they reached the base.
One military source admitted that while militants had made some gains, they would be short-lived. "We withdraw to avoid civilian losses and then regain control. They can't hold territory for long," he said.
The capture of Mosul, the largest city under IS control in Iraq or Syria, has been viewed as crucial in dismantling the caliphate the militants declared over parts of the two countries in 2014. The United Nations said last week nearly 2,000 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed across Iraq in November - a figure which Baghdad says was based on unverified reports.
jm/cmk (Reuters, AP)