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Iraqi and Peshmerga troops advance on Mosul

October 22, 2016

The liberation of Mosul is advancing more quickly than expected, according to Iraqi officials. The US defense secretary has said Iraq and Turkey have agreed in principle on a role for Turkish forces in retaking the city.

Irak Angriff auf Mossul Peschmerga Raketenwerfer
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Hamed

The liberation of Mosul is advancing more quickly than expected, according to Iraqi officials who described the resistance by up to 4,500 fighters with the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) as deadly but ineffective. 

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday after talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey and Iraq had reached an agreement in principle that could allow Turkish forces to play a role in the campaign to retake control of Mosul, which was once part of the Ottoman Empire. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have traded insults, and earlier this week thousands of followers of a Shiite cleric rallied outside the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad, calling for an end to the Turkish "occupation."

"Iraq understands that Turkey, as a member of the counter-ISIL (IS) coalition, will play a role in counter-ISIL operations in Iraq and secondly that Turkey, since it neighbors the region of Mosul, has an interest (in) the ultimate outcome in Mosul," Carter said. "That will have to obviously be something that the Iraqi government will need to agree to, and I think there's agreement there in principle," Carter told reporters travelling with him in Turkey on Friday.

Ankara fears that the operation to retake Mosul could be spearheaded by Shiite militia and also include Kurdish militia, vehemently opposed by Turkey. 

Turkey has also been angered by US support for Kurdish militia fighters battling IS in Syria. Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish YPG as an extension of Kurdish militants who have waged a decadeslong fight for autonomy within Turkey. There are reports that Turkish jets and artillery struck Syrian Kurds in northern Syria on Thursday, killing as many as 200.

Concerns for civilians

For the first time in two years, the Iraqi flag was raised in the predominantly Christian town of Bartella, nine miles (15 km) east of Mosul, after Iraqi forces pushed back IS fighters, it was reported on Friday.

But as fighting intensified, there were growing concerns about the plight of civilians.

The United Nations said 5,640 people have been displaced in the first three days of the military attack on Mosul, which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared on October 17. Local residents appear to have heeded the advanced warnings of a coming attack and fled, but the UN has warned that up to 1.2 million people may still be inside the city. They are reported to be trapped by IS fighters, who may be planning to use them as human shields.

Aid organizations fear a mass exodus from the city that could peak just as winter sets in, leaving them without sufficient shelter capacity for refugees.

IS forces staged a surprise attack on the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday in what appeared to be an attempt to divert attention from the Mosul offensive. 

bik/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)