Category: Eagle City of Mosul


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.

December 7, 2016

Iraqi army units launched fresh attacks towards the center of Mosul yesterday in an offensive from the city’s southeastern edges that could give fresh impetus to the seven-week-old battle for Daesh’s last major Iraqi stronghold.

Campaign commander Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah was quoted by Iraqi television as saying troops had entered the Al-Salam Hospital, less than a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the Tigris River running through the city center.

If confirmed, that would mark a significant advance by the Ninth Armored Division, which had been tied up for more than a month in close-quarter combat with Daesh on the southeastern fringes of the city.

Some residents of Daesh-controlled districts of east Mosul said by telephone the army had punched deep into the east bank of the city getting close to the Tigris, while others said that the army was still some distance away.

“The fighting right now is very heavy – Iraqi forces have gone past our neighborhood without entering it. Our area is now practically surrounded by the river and the Iraqi forces,” said a resident of the Hay Falasteen neighborhood.

On Sunday, Reuters reported residents inside Mosul as saying that the Intisar neighborhood, claimed by the Iraqi military as being under their control, was still Daesh-controlled.

“Daesh still controls our neighborhood, and the Iraqi forces have not taken a single step forward in three weeks. We’re in despair,” a resident living in Intisar told Reuters.

Although still unconfirmed, Daesh’s Amaq news agency said that they had launched three car bomb attacks that struck troops trying to breach Al-Salam hospital. Reuters reporters saw thick black smoke rising from the area around the hospital.

Army struggling to advance in Mosul

The army says it is facing the toughest urban warfare imaginable – hundreds of suicide car bomb attacks, mortar barrages, sniper fire and ambushes launched from a network of tunnels. More than a million civilians are still in the city.

“The quality of the enemy we are facing now is markedly declined from a month ago,” said Brigadier General Scott Efflandt, a coalition deputy commander, adding that the number of militants in the city had probably fallen to around 3,000, from around 5,000 at the start of the campaign.

Although the Iraqi government does not publish its casualty figures, a number of sources, including the UN, appeared to confirm Daesh’s own kill count of close to 4,000 Iraqi and allied forces.

Mosul is by far the largest city under Daesh control in either Iraq or Syria, and defeat there would roll back the territorial gains the self-styled caliphate managed in 2014.

Some 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and mainly Iran-backed Shia paramilitary forces are participating in the Mosul campaign that began on 17 October with air and ground support from a US-led coalition.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161207-iraq-army-creeps-deeper-into-mosul/.

November 29, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — When Iraq’s top generals finalized the plan to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, they gave themselves six months to finish the job. “It was the maximum time cap,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said last week. “We had to plan for the worst, so we don’t get surprised.”

Six weeks into the battle, the force made up of 50,000 troops, Shiite and Sunni tribal militias and Kurdish fighters is a long way from winning back the country’s second-largest city. The fight is showing the limitations of Iraq’s military and security forces, suggesting it has still not fully recovered from the collapse it suffered two years ago in the face of the militants’ blitz across much of northern and western Iraq.

As expected, IS militants are tenaciously defending their last major foothold in Iraq, and the 1 million civilians who remain inside prevent the use of overwhelming firepower. But what is alarming, according to Iraqi field commanders, is that the progress so far has been lopsided. The battle-seasoned special forces are doing most of the fighting and slowly advancing inside the city. Other military outfits are halted outside the city limits, unable to move forward because of resistance, battle fatigue, inexperience or lack of weaponry suited for urban warfare.

Another major challenge for the Iraqis is the command of large and disparate forces maneuvering for a coordinated assault on a large city, according to retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the top American soldier in northern Iraq during the troop surge of 2007-2008.

“This will continue to be a tough fight,” he said. Many of the Iraqi army commanders are seasoned, but “most of the soldiers are young, new and have not experienced combat.” The special forces are under considerable pressure to push on, slugging it out through treacherously narrow streets and alleys while enduring a daily barrage of suicide bombings and mortar and rocket shells.

As policy, the Iraqi military does not release casualty figures, but special forces’ officers speak privately of scores killed and wounded. “We must continue to advance because we suffer fewer casualties than if we hold still and wait for other units to advance in their sectors,” said Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of the special forces. “We are trying to advance cautiously to minimize casualties, and we are convinced that we will eventually be asked to liberate the western sector of the city when we are done here.”

That may be a while yet. The special forces have driven IS militants from about 15 of eastern Mosul’s estimated 39 neighborhoods, some of which are no more than a handful of blocks. Their progress to date places them about 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) from the Tigris River, which divides the city in half.

It’s a deceptively short distance: The area is densely built up and heavily populated, and the men are advancing on multiple fronts, constantly assigning valuable resources to securing their flanks and rear as they capture more territory. For example, in a week of fighting, they have only taken about 60 percent of the large and densely populated Zohour neighborhood, site of one of Mosul’s busiest food markets.

Mosul’s eastern half has a greater population than the western half. In a positive note, coalition airstrikes that cut off the city’s four bridges across the river have helped reduce the number of car bombs, commanders say.

In contrast, the regular forces, which have been battling for weeks through towns and villages on the way to the city, are now stalled on the edges, facing the prospect of diving into an urban battle, according to commanders in the field.

The 16th Infantry Division met stiff resistance about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the city and has had to halt its advance and hold its positions. It did send a brigade to the eastern side of Mosul to help hold territory taken by the special forces there. South of Mosul, forces from the 9th Division along with some 10,000 members of the paramilitary federal police have stopped about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) short of the city’s boundaries to regroup and rest after the long fight to reach that point.

“We are not equipped or trained to fight inside cities. We are an armored outfit with tanks,” acknowledged a senior officer from the 9th Division, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations. “Even if we are able to advance toward the city, we need forces to hold the territory we liberate. Our men are exhausted after a six-week battle deployment.”

The IS militants are putting up resistance not seen in past major battles with the Iraqi military north and west of Baghdad. They are drawing on a vast arsenal of weapons, while fighting in a city they called home for the past two years. The militants have also dug an elaborate network of tunnels, some as long as 3,000 meters (yards), that offer cover from drones.

The battle “will require a combination of siege warfare and continuous attacks against targets identified by sophisticated intelligence, all taking place while civilians are still in the city and its surroundings,” Hertling wrote in response to questions emailed by The Associated Press. “It will take longer than any of them have predicted, and they will sustain significant casualties.”

Commanders suspect the worst may yet to come. Up to 6,000 IS fighters remain in Mosul, including as many as 1,500 foreign fighters, with French and Belgians believed to number several hundreds, according to a senior military intelligence officer in Mosul.

“Their escape from Mosul is now difficult, so they will either fight to the death or become suicide bombers,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations. IS also appears to use its own drones to gather intelligence on troop movements. An example of their information-gathering abilities came Thursday, when fighters accurately hit with several mortar rounds a tent near the airstrip outside the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul. The attack took place just minutes after the prime minister concluded a meeting there with leaders of the Shiite militias tasked with liberating Tal Afar.

Two senior militia leaders and four members of their security details were hurt, according to Jaafar al-Husseini, a militia spokesman.

November 24, 2016

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi troops on Thursday drove Islamic State militants from three more neighborhoods in the northern city of Mosul, pushing toward the city center in a slow, street-to-street fight that’s now in its sixth week, according to a senior Iraqi commander.

Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of the special forces told The Associated Press that his men have retaken the neighborhoods of Amn, Qahira and Green Apartments and were expanding their foothold in the densely populated district of Zohour.

The neighborhoods are all in the eastern sector of Mosul, east of the Tigris River, where most of the fighting has taken place since the government’s campaign to liberate the city began Oct. 17. Government troops are backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against IS positions in the city.

Mosul, captured by IS in 2014, is the last major urban center still held by the Sunni extremist group in Iraq. Late Wednesday, a spokesman for one of the larger state-sanctioned Shiite militias fighting on the ground near Mosul said the militiamen have seized a road to the northwest of Mosul linking the city to Raqqa, the de facto capital of the IS group’s self-styled caliphate in neighboring Syria. The militias have been converging on Tal Afar, an IS-held town west of Mosul that had a Shiite majority before falling to the extremists in 2014.

“We have cut off Tal Afar from Mosul and we cut off Mosul from Syria,” Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, told the AP. Also Wednesday, a pre-dawn airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition struck a bridge across the Tigris River, which divides the city in two, leaving only one bridge for cars functioning in the city and disrupting IS supply lines. It was the second bridge to be struck this week, and two other bridges were destroyed by airstrikes last month.

November 22, 2016

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi troops moved on Tuesday to retake another neighborhood in the eastern sector of the northern city of Mosul but were facing stiff resistance from Islamic State militants, according to a top Iraqi commander.

Brig. Gen. Haider Fadel of the special forces told The Associated Press that IS fighters were targeting his forces with rockets and mortars as they slowly advanced in the densely populated Zohour neighborhood.

“We are cautiously advancing. There are too many civilians still living there,” he said. Iraqi troops began their siege of Zohour on Sunday as they fortified their positions in neighborhoods they had already retaken in eastern Mosul. Suicide bombings, sniper fire and concerns over the safety of civilians — there are 1 million civilians still in Mosul — have combined to slow down progress in the campaign to liberate the city, which began Oct. 17.

Mosul was captured by IS in the summer of 2014. It is Iraq’s second-largest city and the last major IS urban bastion in the country. Most gains in the campaign so far have been made by the special forces operating east of the Tigris River. Other forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga troops and volunteer Sunni militiamen, are advancing on the city from different directions, and the U.S.-led coalition is providing airstrikes and other support.

An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on Monday destroyed a major bridge over the Tigris in the southern part of the city, a move that appears designed to limit the IS capacity to reinforce or resupply fighters on the east bank of the Tigris where most of the fighting is taking place.

It was the third of the city’s five bridges on the Tigris to be targeted by the coalition — the first two were destroyed in airstrikes shortly before and after the start of the Mosul campaign — a sequence that two Iraqi officers said was likely to soon extend to the remaining two bridges to completely separate the city’s eastern sector from the western bank of the Tigris.

The officers spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The Iraqi military is known to have received U.S.-made pontoon bridges which Iraqi troops would use as a substitute for the destroyed bridges.

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 17, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Due to poor weather and cloudy skies, Iraq special forces on Thursday paused temporarily in their push into the northern city of Mosul held by the Islamic State group but still faced deadly attacks, including a suicide car bomb.

In the city’s eastern Tahrir neighborhood, a car packed with explosives sped out from its hiding spot in a school complex, ramming into Iraqi troops’ position and exploding into a ball of fire. A soldier was killed and three were wounded, two officers said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Clouds over the city obscured the visibility of drones and strike aircraft, said Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil, adding that troops are using the pause to secure areas they have taken with checkpoints and are sweeping for explosives.

The U.S. coalition providing air cover and reconnaissance for the advancing forces has been a key element in the success of the Mosul battle so far, and the fighting stalls when the air power cannot be used.

On Wednesday, heavy fighting broke out in Tahrir, where an IS suicide car bomber disabled an Abrams tank belonging to the Iraqi army. Iraqi forces launched the long-awaited operation to retake Mosul nearly a month ago but have only advanced into a few eastern districts. The troops have faced fierce resistance, with snipers, mortar fire and suicide bombers driving armor-plated vehicles packed with explosives.

After swift initial advances into the city’s outskirts, the offensive slowed in more densely populated areas, where Iraqi troops cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians, who have been told to stay in their homes.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, is the last major IS holdout in the country. Driving the militants out of Mosul would deal a severe blow to their self-styled caliphate stretching into Syria.

November 13, 2016

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces battled waves of suicide car bombs on Sunday as they attempt to advance deeper into Mosul in the face of heavy resistance from the Islamic State group. Troops are converging from several fronts on the city, Iraq’s second-largest and the extremists’ last major holdout in the country. The special forces have advanced the furthest so far, and hold a handful of urban districts.

Officers say they have cleared the neighborhoods of Qadisiya and Zahra, and are planning to advance further in the coming hours. Over the past week they have inched forward slowly, trying to avoid casualties among their troops and civilians as suicide bombers in armor-plated vehicles rush forward from hiding spots among densely populated areas.

“The only weapons they have left are car bombs and explosives,” said Iraqi special forces Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi as he radioed with commanders in the field. “There are so many civilian cars and any one of them could be a bomb,” he said.

Several suicide car bombers attacked in the same area on Saturday, wounding around a dozen troops, three civilians, and killing a child, officers said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters.

The troops are building berms and road blocks to prevent car bombs from breaching the front lines. Since last week’s quick advance into Mosul proper, they have struggled to hold territory under heavy IS counterattacks.

The Iraqi armed forces do not release official casualty figures, but field medics have noted dozens of killed and wounded since the operation to liberate the city began on Oct. 17. Meanwhile, a leading U.S.-based rights group released a report alleging that security forces of Iraq’s regional Kurdish government had routinely destroyed Arab homes and even some whole villages in areas retaken from the Islamic State group over the past two years.

The Human Rights Watch report says that between September 2014 and May 2016, Kurdish forces advancing against IS destroyed Arab homes in disputed areas of Kirkuk and Ninevah provinces, while Kurdish homes were left intact. It says the demolitions took place in disputed areas in northern Iraq which the Kurds want to incorporate into their autonomous region over the objections of the central government.

Sunni Arab politicians have previously accused the Kurds of seeking to recast the demographics of mixed areas in northern Iraq. The struggle is particularly intense in the oil-rich Kirkuk region. “In village after village in Kirkuk and Ninevah, KRG security forces destroyed Arab homes — but not those belonging to Kurds — for no legitimate military purpose,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “KRG leaders’ political goals don’t justify demolishing homes illegally.”

All sides fighting in the battle for Mosul have been accused of human rights abuses, with the worst allegations focusing on IS. Kurdish forces have been accused of destroying Arab homes before, with a report last year by Amnesty International alleging that the peshmerga carried out the attacks in retaliation for what they said was the Arab communities’ support for IS.

Kurdish authorities say they abide by human rights laws and deny having any strategy to destroy homes. But they say some villages in which the population fought alongside IS have suffered extensive destruction because of the ferocity of the battles.

Kurdish officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the fresh allegations.

Rohan reported from Baghdad.

November 11, 2016

BASHIQA, Iraq (AP) — New reports emerged Friday of public killings and other atrocities committed against Mosul residents by Islamic State militants, including dozens of civilians whose bullet-riddled bodies were hung from telephone polls after they were accused of using cellphones to leak information to Iraqi security forces.

The United Nations human rights office said IS fighters killed some 70 civilians in Mosul this week, part of a litany of abuses to come to light in recent days, including torture, sexual exploitation of women and girls, and use of child soldiers who were filmed executing civilians.

The revelations are the latest reports of IS brutality as the group retreats into dense urban quarters of Iraqi’s second-largest city, forcing the population to go with them as human shields. In its report, the U.N. human rights office in Geneva said IS shot and killed 40 people on Tuesday after accusing them of “treason and collaboration,” saying they communicated with Iraqi security forces by cellphone. The bodies, dressed in orange jumpsuits, were hung from electrical poles in Mosul.

A day later, the extremists reportedly shot to death 20 civilians at a military base. Their bodies were hung at traffic intersections in Mosul, with signs saying they “used cellphones to leak information.”

A Mosul resident, reached by telephone, said crowds have been watching the killings in horror. One victim was a former police colonel, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

The violence is part of a disturbing pattern. As the army advances, IS militants have been rounding up thousands of people and killing those with suspected links to the security forces. Soldiers last week discovered a mass grave in the town of Hamam al-Alil, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Mosul, containing some 100 bodies.

At the same time, the militants have gone door to door in villages south of Mosul, ordering hundreds to march at gunpoint into the city. Combat in Mosul’s dense urban areas is expected to be heavy, and the presence of civilians will slow the army’s advance as it seeks to avoid casualties.

IS militants have boasted of the atrocities in grisly online photos and video. The United Nations has urged authorities to collect evidence of IS abuses of civilians to use in eventually prosecuting the militants in tribunals.

Iraqi troops are advancing from four fronts on Mosul, the last major IS holdout in Iraq. As Iraqi special forces battle in eastern neighborhoods of the city, Kurdish peshmerga forces are holding a line north of the city, while Iraqi army and militarized police units approach from the south. Government-sanctioned Shiite militias are guarding western approaches.

In the formerly IS-held town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, Kurdish commander Gen. Hamid Effendi said his forces were working to secure the area but faced booby traps that were holding up the advance.

More than a thousand unexploded bombs are believed buried in Bashiqa, Effendi said. Over 100 IS fighters have been killed in combat, he added, but wounded fighters likely remain in defensive tunnels built by the militants.

On Friday, teams went building by building into the night detonating explosives left behind in Bashiqa, which was deserted except for a few residents trickling in to check on their homes and businesses.

Among them was 60-year-old Khan Amir Mohammed, who discovered that his home had been turned into a mortar post by the militants, who dug seven tunnels on his family’s 3 1/2-acre property before retreating.

Ammunition tubes and English-language instruction pamphlets for launching mortars littered the floor in one room. Another had been turned into a makeshift mosque, with lines taped to the floor for worshipers to line up to pray.

A nearby shop where Mohammed sold animal feed had collapsed from an apparent airstrike. “What can I say? I feel powerless,” he said, surveying the destruction. Down the road, Kurdish forces were detonating bombs left behind by the militants. First Sgt. Ayub Mustafa said his unit alone had disabled some 250 bombs, the vast majority homemade explosives.

“Apparently they have a smart electrician with them. They’re well-made,” he said. Special forces troops entered the Qadisiya neighborhood on Friday, the 26th day of the campaign to retake Mosul, exchanging small arms and mortar fire with IS positions and advancing slowly to avoid killing civilians and being surprised by suicide car bombers, said Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil.

Regular army troops control 90 percent of the Intisar neighborhood, said one officer, but progress has slowed because “the streets are too narrow for our tanks.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

Meanwhile, the U.N. cited new evidence the militants have used chemical weapons, escalating fears IS will resort to chemical warfare to try to hold onto the city, still home to more than a million people.

Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva that four people died from inhaling fumes after IS shelled and set fires to the al-Mishrag Sulfur Gas Factory in Mosul on Oct. 23. Shamdasani said reports indicated that IS has stockpiled large amounts of ammonia and sulfur and placed them near civilians. “We can only speculate how they intend to use this,” she said. “We are simply raising the alarm that this is happening, that this is being stockpiled.”

She also noted a video posted online by IS on Wednesday showing four children, believed to be aged 10 to 14, gunning down four people accused of spying for Kurdish and Iraqi security forces. U.N. officials say about 48,000 people have now fled Mosul since the government campaign began on Oct. 17.

Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Susannah George in Qayara, Iraq, contributed to this report.