Category: Gold Eagle Forces in Iraq


December 7, 2016

Daesh militants have managed to force Iraqi soldiers to withdraw from districts in southeast Mosul today, less than a day after Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) claimed to have made advances towards the Tigris River, sources including an army officer and Amaq news agency have said.

The fighting came after the army’s campaign commander for the Mosul operation said soldiers surged into the city and took over the Al-Salam hospital, less than a mile (1.5 km) from the Tigris River which divides eastern and western Mosul.

Yesterday’s apparent rapid advance was thanks to an apparent change in military tactics after more than a month of grueling fighting in the east and southeast of the city, in which the army has sought to capture and clear neighborhoods block by block.

However, the new tactics have now turned out to have been undone by Daesh ambush tactics that drew ISF units into areas before subjecting them to fierce counterattacks.

Attacking ISF were exposed, and Daesh’s Amaq news agency said today that some units were surrounded. It said a suicide bomber blew himself up near the hospital, killing 20 soldiers. Eight armored personnel carriers (APCs) were also destroyed in the fighting that led to an Iraqi withdrawal, Amaq said.

There was no official Iraqi military comment on the fighting but the army officer, whose forces were involved in the clashes, said they had come under multiple attacks by suicide car bombers in the Al-Wahda district where the hospital is located.

“We managed to make a swift advance on Tuesday in Al-Wahda but it seems that Daesh fighters were dragging us to an ambush and they managed later to surround some of our soldiers inside the hospital,” he told Reuters by telephone, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He said an armoured regiment and counter terrorism units, backed by US-led air strikes, were sent to support the stranded troops early today and had opened up a route out of the neighborhood.

“They have secured the position, evacuated the wounded and pulled out the destroyed military vehicles from around the hospital,” he said, adding that they were coming under fire from snipers and rocket-propelled grenades.

Amaq said it attacked the relief convoy as it advanced in the Sumer district, south of Al-Wahda near the outer edge of the city. This led to the convoy being forced to withdraw, in addition to the losses suffered by the ISF in the Al-Salam hospital.

Iraqi forces and allies numbering 100,000 men have been battling for seven weeks to crush Daesh fighters in Mosul, now estimated to be around 3,000 men strong. The city was seized by the militants in 2014 and is the largest in Iraq or Syria under their control.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161207-iraq-daesh-reverse-army-assault-in-mosul/.

By W.G. Dunlop with Delil Souleiman in Ain Issa, Syria

Baghdad (AFP)

Nov 10, 2016

The battle for Iraq’s second city Mosul neared the remains of ancient Nimrud on Thursday, as the offensive against the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold Raqa was hampered by a sandstorm.

Backed by a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces and a Kurdish-Arab militia alliance are advancing on Mosul and Raqa in separate assaults aimed at driving IS from its last major bastions.

The coalition, which launched air strikes against IS two years ago, is looking to deal a fatal blow to the self-styled “caliphate” the jihadists declared in mid-2014.

Launched on October 17, the Iraqi offensive has seen federal forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters advance on Mosul from the east, south and north, pushing inside the eastern city limits last week.

On Thursday the military said troops and allied militia were moving forward on two IS-held villages near Nimrud, which is some 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Mosul.

“Units of the 9th Armored Division and the Hashed al-Ashaeri (tribal militia) are beginning to advance to liberate the villages of Abbas Rajab and Al-Nomaniyah, toward Nimrud,” the Joint Operations Command said, later announcing that Abbas Rajab had been retaken.

Nimrud was the one of the great centers of the ancient Middle East. Founded in the 13th century BC, it became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists for more than 150 years.

– Third of the way to Raqa –

In April last year, IS posted video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up.

It was part of a campaign of destruction against heritage sites under jihadist control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighboring Syria.

IS says the ancient monuments are idols that violate the teachings of its extreme form of Sunni Islam.

In Syria, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said their advance on Raqa was being held back by a sandstorm that had hit the desert province.

“The situation is dangerous today because there is no visibility due to a desert sandstorm,” an SDF commander told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We fear that Daesh will take advantage of this to move in and launch a counter-attack,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Speaking in Ain Issa, the main staging point for the operation some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Raqa, the commander said the sandstorm was also impeding visibility for coalition warplanes.

The SDF launched the offensive on Saturday and has been pushing south from areas near the Turkish border towards Raqa.

The commander said SDF forces advancing south from Ain Issa and Suluk were close to converging at a position some 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Raqa.

“We have been able to cover a third of the distance that separated us from Raqa,” SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said, adding that 15 villages and hamlets had been taken.

– Thousands flee homes –

Ahmed said thousands of civilians had fled their homes since the start of the assault and pleaded for international assistance.

“More than 5,000 displaced people have arrived in regions liberated and secured by our forces. They are coming from combat zones through a corridor we opened for them,” she said.

“We need international help because our capacities are limited and, with winter coming, there is no camp to host them,” she said.

Dozens of families have been seen fleeing towards SDF lines in recent days.

Many have been arriving in trucks and cars around Ain Issa, loaded down with belongings and in some cases with livestock including cows and sheep.

Raqa had a population of some 240,000 before the eruption of Syria’s civil war in 2011 but more than 80,000 people have since fled there from other parts of the country.

Mosul is much bigger, home to more than a million people, and more than 45,000 people have fled since the offensive began.

Aid workers have expressed fears of a major humanitarian crisis once fighting begins in earnest inside the city, where IS is expected to use civilians as human shields.

Rights groups have also raised concerns for fleeing civilians, amid accusations of abuses by some Iraqi forces.

Amnesty International called Thursday on the Iraqi government to investigate the killings of six residents south of Mosul who it said were executed by men in federal police uniforms during the offensive.

Iraq’s federal police issued a statement denying its forces had been involved in extrajudicial killings.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Battle_for_IS-held_Mosul_nears_ancient_site_999.html.

November 4, 2016

Daesh launched yet another surprise attack against Iraq’s rear areas in a town that was supposed to have been “liberated” in September, exposing how Iraqi forces have been ineffective in securing towns and cities before moving on to launch their almost three-week-old offensive against Mosul.

In the early hours of this morning, Daesh assaulted Shirqat in Salahuddin province, over 100 kilometers from Mosul, Iraq’s second city and Daesh’s last major urban stronghold in the country.

Daesh claims that it has taken over several districts in the small town, and has apparently torched a police station, capturing five police officers and killing other Iraq Security Forces (ISF) troops, including an officer. Daesh also control the main hospital.

Local activists have confirmed that several Iraqi armored vehicles and personnel carriers were destroyed by the militants, including supply trucks apparently destined for Shia militias near the Mosul frontlines.

Fighting in Shirqat is ongoing, with ISF in disarray.

When Shirqat was recaptured by ISF in September, their victory was touted as a stepping stone on the road to prising Mosul from Daesh’s grip. At the time, it was hailed as a significant advance but today’s attack highlights the weakness of ISF soldiers in holding territory.

Iraqi authorities failing to prevent Daesh attacks

Since the Iraqi government launched its US-backed offensive to recapture Mosul on 17 October, Daesh have not only managed to hold off any real advance into the city itself, but have also managed to launch devastating attacks across the country.

Daesh first breached Kirkuk’s defenses, more than 170 kilometers from Mosul, and put the city into disarray for almost a week. The attack was eventually repulsed, but not before dozens of Kurdish security forces died, shaking confidence in their ability to detect and prevent attacks.

Following the assault on Kirkuk, Daesh successfully attacked Rutba, almost 600 kilometers south of Mosul, and held it for three days until ISF forces managed to take it back with air support from the international US-led coalition.

Analysts have said that this may herald a future Daesh strategic shift from holding towns and cities to disrupting security and economic activity in these cities once they are retaken, making the rule of Iraqi and Kurdish authorities untenable.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161104-daesh-invades-shirqat-liberated-by-iraqi-forces-2-months-ago/.

Monday 12 December 2016

Little is left standing in Bashiqa, a formerly Christian town now gutted of both its infrastructure and inhabitants.

After two years of Islamic State occupation, it is little more than a skeleton, a name on a map. But sitting to the east of the city of Mosul the town, or what remains of it, encapsulates the precipice on which Iraq, and perhaps even the wider Middle East, sit.

Having besieged the city for months on end, Kurdish forces have drawn a new line in the sand here. The town, formerly outside of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, represents the western frontier of a new Kurdistan.

The official line had always been that Arab towns such as Bashiqa would be returned to Arab rule, but this was, perhaps unsurprisingly, tossed in the air when Kurdish Premier Massoud Barzani made a defiant speech in the town last month asserting that the Kurds would never relinquish control over towns for which Kurdish blood had been spilt.

Indeed these tensions are already visible in rhetoric. Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi, a senior Shia politician and former commander of the Badr organisation, the country’s largest Shia militia involved in fighting near Mosul, has threatened to attack Kurdish forces with the militia if it wasn’t returned to Arab control.

To add to this, a searing report from Amnesty International released last month accused Kurdish authorities of forcibly displacing Arabs from the contested city of Kirkuk.

If there is one thing we can learn from Iraq’s traumatic history, it is the power of memory. Barely a conversation passes in Kurdish circles without a reference to the Halabja massacre conducted by Saddam Hussein in 1988. In a similar vein, the expulsion of Arabs by Kurdish forces from Kirkuk and towns and villages to the east of Mosul is something that will remain entrenched in the Iraqi psyche for many years.

Return of ‘the man who ruined Iraq’?

As the largely Shia Iraqi army enters the city, many are also fearful of a sectarian backlash. Rasha Al Aqeedi, a Mosul native now based in Dubai as a research fellow at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Centre, writes: “Mosul’s alienation from post-2003 Iraq can be partially understood within the context of a general Sunni distaste for Shia ascendency.”

Despite being a minority, Sunnis ruled Iraq from 1932 until Saddam Hussein’s toppling in 2003 when elections put Iraq’s Shia majority in charge of the government, and with that the army. Al-Aqeedi is cautiously optimistic that Haider al-Abadi’s Shia government is doing enough to fight this fearfulness “thanks to the professional conduct of the Iraqi army and [Abadi’s] calming leadership” but, as she warns “that could easily change”.

But al-Abadi’s efforts have made him deeply unpopular and none more so than with disgraced tyrant and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. With the world’s and particularly the US’s attention understandably focused on the fight for Mosul, al-Maliki is on maneuvers, and scheming a return to power.

It was under al-Maliki that the Sunni disenfranchisement capitalized on by Islamic State reached its apex – a result of his intensely sectarian rule. Now, under the pretext of an anti-corruption drive, he is picking off al-Abadi’s ministers one by one through secret ballot. A tragic irony considering his alleged siphoning off of billions from the Iraqi treasury during his time in office, something some have described as “the greatest political corruption scandal in history”.

His first target, former defense minister Khaled al-Obeidi, who had successfully overseen the recapture of the strategically critical Qayyarah airbase in July, was forced from office as a result of a secret ballot orchestrated by al-Maliki in late August. Then in late September under almost identical circumstances finance minister Hoshyar Zebari was also forced from his ministry.

Neither has been replaced and some believe that the next target is the country’s minister of foreign affairs Ibrahim al-Jaafari. If successful, Haider al-Abadi’s government would be untenable, and the stage would be set for “the man who ruined Iraq” to return.

‘My daily life was the same’

The other elephant in the room remains IS’s ideology. It goes largely unchallenged on an intellectual level within Iraq and hundreds of thousands of children have spent some of their most formative years having it drilled into them.

Liberated towns such as Qayyarah and Hamam al-Alil to the south of Mosul are undoubtedly grateful to be freed from the gratuitous violence of the jihadists. But these deeply conservative areas remain susceptible to the ideological underpinnings of the jihadists.

Four months after the town’s liberation, women in Qayyarah are rarely seen outside the house and the ones that are remain clad in niqabs. As one woman fleeing the eastern Mosul suburb of Gogjali said to me: “I can’t tell you how things changed, because for me, apart from the violence, they haven’t, there were bombs and beheadings, but my daily life was the same, my faith was the same.”

IS is undoubtedly on the decline, the group’s unofficial motto of “remaining and expanding” is now as expired as their treatment of women. But the opportunism of Iraq’s Kurds, coupled with unaddressed Sunni grievances and Shia expansionism, are a deadly cocktail.

Al-Abadi is stretched in every imaginable direction, but if al-Maliki’s efforts to topple his government and return to power are a success, then the fall of Mosul will likely just spell a new chapter of trauma for Iraq.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/iraq-post-islamic-state-837887658.

November 19, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi troops faced stiff resistance Saturday from Islamic State militants as they pushed deeper into eastern Mosul, backed by aerial support from the U.S.-led international coalition, a senior military commander said.

Troops moved into the Muharabeen and Ulama neighborhoods after fully liberating the adjacent Tahrir neighborhood on Friday, said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces. Al-Aridi said IS militants were fighting back with snipers, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds.

Thick black columns of smoke were seen billowing from the two areas, while dozens of civilians were seen fleeing to government-controlled areas. Shortly before noon, a suicide bomber emerged from a house in the Tahrir neighborhood and attacked security forces, wounding four troops. Later in the afternoon, another suicide car bomber hit the troops in Aden neighborhood, killing a soldier and wounding three others.

Late on Friday, a group of IS militants attacked the village of Imam Gharbi south of Mosul, controlling most of it for hours before airstrikes from the U.S.-led international coalition were called in, an officer said. The clashes and multiple suicide bombings left three policemen dead, including an officer, and four others wounded, he said. Nine IS fighters were killed, he added. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief media.

On Saturday, after the fighting had quietened down, the Kuwaiti government in coordination with a local NGO distributed 1,000 boxes of humanitarian aid to residents of the Samah and al-Arbajiyeh district in eastern Mosul, which had been cleared of IS militants earlier.

Residents sat on the ground in a long queue waiting to receive the aid. As they emerged from their districts, some opened their jackets and raised their hands in the air to show troops they were not wearing an explosive belt. Some waved white flags.

“We don’t have any medical support,” said Ibrahim Saad, a Mosul resident. “There is no food, no water. I am not talking about electricity, but these three fundamental things are not available.” he said.

To the west of Mosul, government-sanctioned Shiite militias took full control of the Tal Afar military airfield Friday night, said Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the influential Hezbollah Brigades. Al-Husseini said the clashes almost destroyed the airport and that it will be an important launching pad for the troops in their advance.

The extremist group captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in the summer of 2014. The offensive to retake the city, which was launched on Oct. 17, is the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011. If successful, the retaking of Mosul would be the strongest blow dealt to IS’ self-styled caliphate stretching into Syria. The Shiite militias are leading an assault to drive IS from Tal Afar, which had a majority Shiite population before it fell to the militants in the summer of 2014, and to cut IS supply lines linking Mosul to Syria.

According to the United Nations, more than 56,000 civilians have been forced from their homes since the operation began out of nearly 1.5 million civilians living in and around Mosul. In the heavily damaged town of Bashiqa, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) northeast of Mosul’s outskirts, Christians rang the bells of Saint George’s church for the first time to celebrate its liberation from IS, which was driven out earlier this month. Much of the town has been reduced to rubble from artillery strikes and air raids.

Parishioners, peshmerga fighters and Kurdish officials sang hymns and played band music as they walked in procession into the church, which was heavily vandalized by IS fighters. Men prepared a large cross to mount on the rooftop, replacing one destroyed by the extremists.

“The first thing they did was break the cross, we want to replace it and tell Daesh that the cross is still here and we are not leaving at all,” said Rev. Afram al-Khoury Benyamen, using the Arabic acronym to refer to the group.

Bullet holes marked the walls inside the church courtyard, strewn with garbage and graffiti left by the extremists, including some of their names. Much of the church’s inside had been smashed, with rubble strewn across the ground and holy inscriptions covered with black paint. In an upper level, pews had been pushed back to make room for cushions and carpet beneath a broken window that had been used as a sniper’s nest, marked out by scattered spent bullet casings.

Broken brass instruments and a torn bagpipe from the church’s boy scout band lay scattered across the site, with pills and syringes on the floor in one area. The church graveyard was desecrated, with graves broken into and tombstones smashed and painted over.

“It’s good they’re gone, but how happy can we be? Look at this mess,” said 22-year old Youssef Ragheed, a drummer from the band who had fled the town when IS controlled it but returned for Saturday’s ceremony.

Rohan reported from Bashiqa, Iraq. Mstyslav Chernov and Hussein Malla, in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.

November 10, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi troops consolidated gains in their advance on the northern city of Mosul on Thursday, regrouping as they clear neighborhoods and houses once occupied by the Islamic State group. In Mosul proper, where troops have a foothold in a sliver of territory in the city’s east, the special forces control the Zahra neighborhood, once named after former dictator Saddam Hussein, military officials said.

They have taken at least half of the Aden neighborhood and clashes were still ongoing there, while the regular army’s ninth division is stationed in east Mosul’s Intisar neighborhood, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters. Skirmishes also continued in the city’s southern outskirts.

Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led forces operating the key air campaign against IS, said that advancing troops and aircraft have destroyed some 70 tunnels the jihadis had been using to launch surprise attacks from inside densely populated areas.

“They’ve set up elaborate defenses, and we have to assume they’ll do anything among the civilian population because they don’t care about anyone,” he said, noting that airstrikes had hit hundreds of IS positions in the three-week old Mosul campaign.

Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, the country’s second largest city and the last major IS holdout in Iraq. Kurdish peshmerga forces are holding a line outside the city in the north, while Iraqi army and militarized police units approach from the south and government-sanctioned Shiite militias are guarding the western approaches.

The offensive has slowed in recent days as the special forces, the troops who have advanced the farthest, push into more densely populated areas of the city’s east, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians who have been told to stay in their homes.

Over 34,000 people have been displaced in the fighting and are settling in camps and host communities in nearby provinces. Troops are trying to screen the crowds for potential IS fighters attempting to sneak out among the civilians, and some have admitted to meting out what they consider swift justice, by executing them.

On Thursday, Amnesty International issued its latest report on the abuses of security forces, urging the government to investigate and stop cases of arbitrary detention, forced disappearances and ill-treatment of prisoners. The London-based rights organization said it visited villages near the Shura and Qayara areas outside Mosul, where it says up to six people were “extrajudicially executed” in late October over suspected ties to IS.

“Men in Federal Police uniform have carried out multiple unlawful killings, apprehending and then deliberately killing in cold blood residents in villages south of Mosul,” said Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf. “In some cases the residents were tortured before they were shot dead execution-style.”

The battle front in that area has moved further north toward Mosul. Forces there are at the town of Hamam al-Alil, said Brig. Firas Bashar, the spokesman for Nineveh operations command. To the northeast, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the city, peshmerga continued to take territory in the town of Bashiqa, believed to be largely deserted except for dozens of IS fighters. They’ve have had the town surrounded for weeks, and have assaulted it with mortar and artillery fire.

At an area church in territory freshly freed from the militants’ grip, priests rang bells for the first time in two years on Wednesday as the peshmerga worked to secure the town. “We are so happy at the liberation,” said the Rev. Elkhoury Alfaran Elkhoury at the Mart Shoomy Church in Bahzani, a village near Bashiqa.

“They want to give a message to the world, and that message is damage, their message is destruction, their message is death,” he said, highlighting damage to the church made by the jihadis while they occupied the area.

In New York, the U.N. said the progress meant that the days were numbered for the self-styled caliphate declared by IS from Mosul in 2014. “This liberation operation marks the beginning of the end of the so-called ‘Da’esh caliphate’ in Iraq,” the U.N. envoy for the country told the Security Council on Wednesday, using the group’s Arabic acronym.

Jan Kubis said that the U.N.’s humanitarian agencies were preparing to shelter even more of the tens of thousands of displaced people as winter approaches. He also warned that reconciliation and restoration of confidence in the government was necessary if the victories against IS are to be lasting.

Associated Press writers Brian Rohan in Baghdad and Susannah George in Qayara, Iraq contributed to this report.

By Maya Gebeily with Delil Souleiman in Ain Issa, Syria

Bashiqa, Iraq (AFP)

Nov 8, 2016

Iraqi Kurdish forces have seized the town of Bashiqa near Mosul from the Islamic State group, an official said Tuesday, as US-backed militia forces advanced on the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold Raqa.

Capturing Bashiqa would be a final step in securing the eastern approaches to Mosul, three weeks into an offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the country’s second city.

Iraqi troops have also seized the town of Hamam al-Alil south of Mosul, and Tuesday investigators carried out an initial examination of a mass grave site discovered in the area.

Bashiqa was under the “complete control” of Kurdish peshmerga forces, Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the Kurdish regional ministry responsible for the fighters, told AFP.

“Our forces are clearing mines and sweeping the city,” Yawar said.

An AFP correspondent on the outskirts of Bashiqa said clashes were ongoing, with three air strikes hitting the town and gunfire and an explosion heard.

The peshmerga said there were still some suicide bombers and snipers there, and that about five percent of Bashiqa remained under jihadist control.

Iraqi forces have been tightening the noose around Mosul since launching the offensive on October 17, with elite troops last week breaching city limits.

Upping pressure on the jihadists, the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia alliance on Saturday began its own offensive on IS’s other main bastion, Raqa in Syria.

Raqa and Mosul are the last major cities in Syria and Iraq under IS control, and their capture would deal a knockout blow to the self-styled “caliphate” it declared in mid-2014.

– ‘Determined to succeed’ –

The US-led coalition that launched operations against IS two years ago is providing crucial backing to both offensives, with air strikes and special forces advisers on the ground.

SDF forces have been pushing south from areas near the Turkish border towards Raqa, and alliance spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said Tuesday they had moved to within 36 kilometers (22 miles) of the city.

“Two more villages have been taken since yesterday,” she told AFP, adding that SDF forces had so far advanced 14 kilometers (nine miles) closer to Raqa from Ain Issa, the operation’s main staging point.

“The fighting continues; morale is good and our fighters are determined that this offensive will succeed,” she said.

The fighting has prompted a steady trickle of civilians to flee IS territory, most heading towards Ain Issa.

“We were afraid of the planes, and we were afraid of the IS fighters,” said 34-year-old Wazira Al-Jeely from Al-Tuwaila village.

“When the strikes started, we took off our burqas and said we’re done with you, and we ran away.”

Like in the battle for Mosul, the goal of the Raqa offensive is to surround and isolate the jihadists inside the city before mounting a street-to-street assault.

In both cases officials are warning of long and bloody battles ahead, with IS expected to put up fierce resistance and use trapped civilians as human shields.

More than a million people are believed to be in Mosul. Raqa in 2011 had a pre-war population of some 240,000, and more than 80,000 people have since fled there from elsewhere in Syria.

Iraqi forces scored another victory against IS on Monday by establishing full control over Hamam al-Alil, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the edge of Mosul and the last town of note on the way to the city from the south.

– Mass grave site –

They said a mass grave was found at an agricultural college in the area, with the offensive’s Joint Operations Command saying “100 bodies of citizens with their heads cut off” had been uncovered.

An AFP journalist Tuesday said body parts and bones were visible among rubbish dumped there.

Men in Iraqi security forces uniforms used ropes to pull two bodies, one headless, from the grave, and also removed a decapitated head.

“Today, the team conducted an initial examination,” said Mohammed Taher al-Tamimi, an Iraqi cabinet official.

Tamimi said the victims had been blindfolded with their hands and feet bound.

He said around 25 bodies were initially visible, but investigators believed there “very large numbers” of corpses there.

Dhiyab Tareq, a 32-year-old from the area, said he had heard shots when IS carried out executions at the site.

“I was sitting close to the door and heard the gunshots,” Tareq said, adding that the next day IS members boasted about killing security forces members.

IS’s rule has been marked by atrocities including mass beheadings and other executions that it has documented in photos and videos that its supporters share online.

The United Nations said Tuesday that IS fighters “forcibly moved about 1,500 families from Hamam al-Alil town to Mosul airport” on November 4.

The UN has warned for weeks that IS is making civilians living in districts around Mosul move into the city.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Iraqi_Kurds_seize_IS-held_town_near_Mosul_999.html.

November 07, 2016

NEAR BASHIQA, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi Kurdish fighters exchanged heavy fire with IS militants early on Monday as they advanced from two directions on a town held by the Islamic State group east of the city of Mosul.

The early morning offensive to reclaim the town of Bashiqa is part of the broader push to drive IS out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the militants’ last major urban stronghold in the country.

Bashiqa, which is believed to be largely deserted except for dozens of IS fighters, is about 13 kilometers (8 miles) northeast of the edge of Mosul and about 20 kilometers from the city center. Iraqi special forces entered Mosul last week and have made some progress in gaining a foothold on the city’s eastern edges. But progress inside the city has been slowed as troops push into more densely populated areas.

Iraq’s special forces are suffering casualties as militant bog them down with suicide car bombs, booby traps and close-quarters fighting along narrow streets. IS still holds territory to the north, south and west of Mosul.

Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition and joined by government-sanctioned militias, are fighting to drive IS out of those surrounding areas and open additional fronts to attack Mosul itself.

Bashiqa has been surrounded by Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, for weeks but Monday’s push appears to be the most serious yet to drive IS from the town. Kurdish forces launched mortar rounds and fired heavy artillery into the town on Sunday in advance of the offensive. More artillery and air strikes hit the town early Monday as the Kurdish forces’ advance got underway.

The U.S. special envoy to the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, said late on Sunday that the three-week offensive against the extremists in Mosul is proceeding “ahead of schedule.” Speaking to reporters in Jordan, McGurk said the fight to degrade the group and break up its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq was expected to take about three years.

Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Irbil, Iraq, and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

November 06, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s special forces worked Sunday to clear neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Islamic State-held Mosul as bombings launched by the extremist group elsewhere in the country killed at least 20 people.

The Mosul offensive has slowed in recent days as Iraqi forces have pushed into more densely populated areas, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians, who have been told to stay in their homes.

“There are a lot of civilians and we are trying to protect them,” said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi. “This is one of the hardest battles that we’ve faced till now.” Some civilians are fleeing the combat zone, while IS militants are holding others back for use as human shields, making it harder for Iraqi commanders on the ground to get approval for requested U.S.-led coalition air strikes. Iraq’s special forces are some of the country’s best troops, but they still largely rely on air support to clear terrain.

Iraqi forces first entered the eastern edge of the city on Tuesday. On Friday, forces began pushing into Mosul proper, but so far have advanced just over a kilometer (mile) into the city. On the southern front, Iraqi forces are still some 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the city center. The fighting is centered on the town of Hamam al-Alil, where Associated Press journalists could hear gunfire and saw attack helicopters firing on IS positions.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched mortar rounds and fired heavy artillery at the IS-held town of Bashiqa, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Mosul. The town, which is believed to be largely empty except for IS militants, has been encircled by Kurdish forces.

The extremists captured Mosul and surrounding areas in 2014, and have had plenty of time to dig trenches, block off roads and mine approaches to the city. “Daesh dug trenches that they filled with water and they have a lot of suicide attackers and car bombs,” said al-Timimi, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group.

The extremists meanwhile struck far from the front lines with a series of bombings. The deadliest attack took place in the city of Samarra, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Baghdad, which is home to a major Shiite shrine. Provincial spokesman Ali al-Hamdani said the attacker set off a bomb-packed ambulance in a parking lot near Shiite pilgrims before detonating his explosives vest.

The attack killed 11 people, including at least four Iranians, and wounded up to 100 other people. Another suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden car into a busy checkpoint outside the city of Tikrit, killing at least nine people. Al-Hamdani said five female students, a woman and three policemen were killed in the attack, while 25 others were wounded.

IS had also captured Tikrit during its lightning blitz across Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraqi forces drove the militants from the city, around 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Baghdad, in April 2015.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned the two attacks, which he said had killed 21 people, including 10 Iranian pilgrims, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting tolls, which are common in the chaotic aftermath of attacks.

In an online statement, IS claimed all three bombings and said the ambulance bomb was set off by a second suicide attacker. The AP could not verify the authenticity of the statement, which was posted on a militant website commonly used by the extremists.

In the capital, Baghdad, a series of smaller bombings killed at least 10 people and wounded 21 others, according to police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. No one immediately claimed the attacks, but they bore the hallmarks of IS.

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Cristiana Mesquita near Bashiqa, Iraq, Balint Szlanko near Hamam al-Alil, Iraq, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

November 06, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s special forces struggled Sunday to clear areas retaken from the Islamic State group along Mosul’s eastern edge, where the extremists have built up fortifications and ramparts in residential neighborhoods.

The slowdown highlights the challenges ahead for Iraqi forces as they press into more populated areas deeper in the city — where the civilian presence means they won’t be able to rely as much on airstrikes.

“There are a lot of civilians and we are trying to protect them,” said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi. “This is one of the hardest battles that we’ve faced till now.” Some civilians are fleeing the combat zone, while IS militants are holding others back for use as human shields, making it harder for Iraqi commanders on the ground to get approval for requests for U.S.-led coalition air strikes. Iraq’s special forces are some of the country’s best troops, but they still largely rely on air support to clear terrain.

Iraqi forces first entered the eastern edge of the city on Tuesday. On Friday, forces began pushing into Mosul proper, but so far have only advanced just over a kilometer (mile) into the city. On the city’s southern front Iraqi forces are still some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city center.

The extremists captured the city in 2014, and have had plenty of time to erect fortifications. Trenches and berms have turned the streets and alleyways of a neighborhood once named after former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein into a maze, and concrete blast walls have blocked off access to other areas.

“Daesh dug trenches that they filled with water and they have a lot of suicide attackers and car bombs,” said al-Timimi, using the Arabic acronym for the IS group. IS fought back Saturday, pushing the special forces from the southern edge of the Gogjali neighborhood, where the troops had made their first major foray into the city itself after more than two weeks of fighting in its rural outskirts.

Both sides fired mortar rounds and automatic weapons, while the Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. Snipers dueled from rooftops in residential areas, where most buildings are just two stories high.