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'IS' digs its heels in as Mosul falls

May 28, 2017

As the Iraqi army begins to surrounding them, the so-called "Islamic State" jihadist group has responded with a campaign of car bombs and sniper fire. Mosul was the terrorists' last urban stronghold.

Irak Kämpfe im Westen von Mosul
Image: Reuters/Stringer

Snipers and suicide bombers fighting for the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) jihadist group targeted combatants and civilians alike in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday. The terrorists seemed determined to fight to the last amidst a government push to completely retake the city.

Mosul had been the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, but recent offenses have cornered the jihadists into select pockets of the old city. Despite this, they continued their campaign of suicide car bombings and snipers placed on rooftops to making the fighting difficult in the neighborhoods they control, already a challenge because of the narrow streets and dense civilian population.

Read more: Iraqi army launches operation to seize last 'IS' enclave in Mosul

There were "sporadic" clashes on Sunday, according to Baghdad, and at least two military officers were killed in fighting near the Tigris River in the city's Shafaa neighborhood.

Karte Mossul ENG
IS' remaining strongholds (click to enlarge)

On Saturday, however, US-backed Iraqi forces were able to take control of key territory as they try to surround IS from three different directions. They were able to capture the Ibn Sina hospital, which is also in the Shafaa neighborhood, providing them access to a major medical complex that the terrorists have controlled since they swept through the city in 2014.

Since Friday, the government has been working to get civilians out of the targeted areas, dropping leaflets to alert citizens to "safe passages" where they could flee with the help of "guides, protectors and (transportation)."

US admits high non-combatant casualties

The push to protect civilians came as the US military was receiving heavy criticism for the amount of civilian deaths caused by its coalition against IS.

The Pentagon recently admitted that one of its airstrikes had killed 105 non-combatants in Mosul in March, the largest single loss of civilian life since the coalition began its bombing campaign.

The destruction in western Mosul

According to a military investigation, both Iraqi forces and US military advisors did not know there were so many people in the building that collapsed as a result of the strikes near an IS target. They were similarly unaware that IS had placed explosives at the site, the report said.

In an interview on Sunday, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that "everything humanly possible" is done to avoid civilian casualties, but in this kind of asymmetrical conflict, it becomes "a fact of life" that innocents could die.

Read more: US plan to 'annihilate IS' raises questions over civilian toll, larger strategy

"We have not changed the rules of engagement," Mattis clarified to the CBS program Face the Nation. "There is no relaxation of our intention to protect the innocent."

Mattis laid the blame for the deaths in Mosul at the hands of IS, saying the way they had laid explosives under the building full of civilians illustrated their "callous disregard that is characterized by every operation they have run."

es/rc (AP, AFP)