After a two-week pause, Iraqi troops have resumed the battle for the largest city still controlled by "Islamic State." The US-led coalition has said it may have killed civilians in an airstrike on a hospital car park.
Iraqi security forces started a new push into Mosul on Thursday in an attempt to recapture the city held captive by the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) since June 2014. Government troops moved into several southeastern districts of the city in an effort to bring eastern Mosul under their control.
"The second phase of liberating the left bank in Mosul was launched, and our forces began advancing toward the al-Quds neighborhood," Abdulghani al-Assadi, a senior officer in Iraq's Counterterrorism Service, told the AFP news agency. "Now our forces clashed with the enemy and there is resistance."
The battle began in the morning and continued until shortly before sundown.
Possible civilian deaths
Later Thursday, the US-led coalition said it may have killed civilians in an airstrike on a hospital parking lot while targeting a van which was reportedly carrying IS fighters.
The strike took place "in what was later determined to be a hospital compound parking lot resulting in possible civilian casualties," a statement from CENTCOM, the US military command for the Middle East, read. It was not immediately known how many were hurt in the strike.
The coalition has said it is taking extensive precautions to avoid killing civilians while bombing IS targets. US officials have acknowledged that 173 civilians have died in coalition airstrikes since the start of the anti-IS campaign in 2014. Airwars, a London-based project that tracks the coalition's airstrikes, has said at least 1,500 civilians have died in coalition strikes.
Slower progress than expected
Iraq started an offensive on Mosul two month ago, involving 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of the Kurdish security forces and Shiite militia. The campaign entered a planned "operational refit" earlier this month after advances into the city progressed slower than hoped. Many civilians have remained in the city, and weather conditions have been rough.
Military advisers from the United States, a key Iraqi ally in the international coalition fighting IS, will likely have a larger role in the upcoming battles as US soldiers are embedded more extensively with Iraqi forces.
Ground troops aided by airstrikes have captured about a quarter of the city, exclusively in eastern Mosul. Mosul is divided into two parts of roughly the same size by the Tigris River.
IS controls western Mosul, as well as strategically relevant roads leading into the city from the west. An airstrike recently disabled the last bridge across the Tigris.
Mosul is the largest city held by IS. The city in northern Iraq had a pre-war population of roughly 2 million; up to 1.5 million people are estimated to have remained in the embattled city. Its fall could mean an end for IS in Iraq. The jihadi group has tried to form a self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Northern Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi initially pledged that Mosul would be in government control by the end of the year. Given that western Mosul is still in control of IS, this deadline will likely not be met. On Tuesday, al-Abadi said it would take another three months to eliminate IS.
rs, mb/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)