Category: Lost Rail War


July 09, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi troops are celebrating the clearing of Islamic State militants from some of their last strongholds in Mosul, but heavy fighting is still underway. Lt. Gen. Jassim Nizal of the army’s 9th Division said Sunday his forces have achieved “victory” in the sector allotted to them, after a similar announcement by the militarized Federal Police. Iraqi special forces are still fighting a few hundred meters (yards) away.

Nizal’s soldiers danced to patriotic music atop tanks even as airstrikes sent plumes of smoke into the air nearby. Iraq launched the operation to retake Mosul in October. IS now controls less than a square kilometer (mile) of territory in Mosul’s Old City, but is using human shields, suicide bombers and snipers in a fight to the death.

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June 30, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — With anti-Islamic State group forces on the offensive in both the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday declared an end to the extremist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

But even as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made the bold assertion, deadly fighting continued in Mosul — filling field hospitals and forcing hundreds to flee. “We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state. The liberation of Mosul proves that,” al-Abadi said on Twitter, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “We will not relent. Our brave forces will bring victory.”

Across the border in in Raqqa, coalition officials predicted a long, bloody battle ahead for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, whose fighters succeeded in completely encircling the militants’ de-facto capital Thursday. U.S.-led coalition officials estimated that as many as 2,500 IS fighters remained in the city.

Beginning at dawn, Iraqi forces began a push deeper into Mosul’s Old City, where IS fighters were making their last stand. The Iraqi troops moved slowly along foot paths strewn with rubble, twisted metal and downed power lines. Many front-line positions were only reachable by climbing in and out of homes, across roof tops and through holes blasted into concrete walls.

By early afternoon they had reached al-Nuri Mosque, at once a hugely symbolic win and a ruined prize. The site is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance in July 2014, declaring the self-styled Islamic “caliphate” encompassing territories then-held by the extremists in Syria and Iraq.

But IS destroyed the mosque and its iconic leaning minaret last week, Iraqi and coalition officials said. The Islamic State group blamed a U.S. airstrike for the blasts, a claim rejected by a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition who said coalition planes “did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.”

The fight for the Old City has seen some of the most difficult urban combat yet for Iraqi forces in the campaign against IS. Eight months into the Mosul offensive, IS now holds less than two square kilometers (0.8 square miles) of the city, but the advances have come at considerable cost.

Damaged and destroyed houses dot the Old City neighborhoods retaken by Iraqi forces and the stench of rotting bodies rises from beneath collapsed buildings. “There are hundreds of bodies under the rubble,” said special forces Maj. Dhia Thamir. “But they are all Daesh.”

Special forces Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi acknowledged that civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery in the recent fighting. “Of course there is collateral damage, it is always this way in war,” he said. “The houses are very old, so any bombardment causes them to collapse completely.”

U.S.-led coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters at the Pentagon that “the Old City still remains a difficult, dense, suffocating fight — tight alley ways with booby traps, civilians, and (IS) fighters around every corner.”

Still, he said he expected victory to be “imminent,” predicting it would come “in days rather than weeks.” Even after Mosul is retaken, however, IS still controls significant pockets of territory in Iraq that Iraqi forces say will require many more months of fighting to liberate.

Some 300 IS fighters remain holed up inside the last Mosul districts the militants hold, along with an estimated 50,000 civilians, according to the United Nations. The civilians who managed to escape Thursday fled on foot in waves. Soldiers shouted at men to lift their shirts to show they were not wearing explosives and rummaged through the few possessions people carried with them: identify papers, family photos, baby formula, diapers and clothing.

Nearly 1,000 civilians fled the Old City on Thursday, according to Col. Ali al-Kenani, an Iraqi intelligence officer at a west Mosul screening center. Families covered in dust huddled in the shade of half-destroyed storefronts waiting for flat-bed trucks to move them to camps.

“We saw so many bodies stuck under the rubble as we fled,” said Muhammed Hamoud who escaped the Old City with his wife and two children. “One man was still alive. He yelled for us to help him. We were able to dig him out, but he was so badly injured we had to leave him. We couldn’t carry him with us.”

While Iraqi forces have had periods of swift gains during the Mosul operation, combat has largely been grueling and deadly for both security forces and civilians. Clashes have also displaced more than 850,000 people according to the International Organization for Migration.

At a small field clinic not far from the front, medics were treating casualties in waves. An entire family suffering from shrapnel wounds from a mortar round was brought in a military vehicle as another Humvee rushed up to the clinic’s doors with a body on the hood.

“What do we have?” a doctor yelled as a team scrambled to pull on plastic gloves and ready a cot. “A martyr,” the driver said. The medics stopped prepping bandages and began removing their gloves. The solider was already dead.

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad, Balint Szlanko and Salar Salim in Mosul, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

June 29, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces on Thursday captured the compound of a landmark mosque in Mosul that was blown up last week by the Islamic State group — a hugely symbolic site from where the top IS leader declared an Islamic “caliphate” nearly three years ago.

The advance comes as the Iraqi troops are pushing deeper into the Old City, a densely populated neighborhood west of the Tigris River where the al-Nouri Mosque with its 12th century al-Hadba minaret once stood and where the IS militants are now making their last stand in what are expected to be the final days of the battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

Iraqi special forces reached the al-Nuri Mosque compound and took control of the surrounding streets on Thursday afternoon, following a dawn push into the area, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of the elite force told The Associated Press.

Damaged and destroyed houses dot the route Iraqi forces have carved into the congested district — along a landscape of destruction where the stench of rotting bodies rises from under the rubble. Thursday’s push comes more than a week after Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake Mosul’s last IS-held parts of the Old City neighborhood, with its narrow alleyways and dense clusters of homes.

Taking the mosque is a symbolic victory — from its pulpit, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014 declared a self-styled Islamic “caliphate,” encompassing territories then-held by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi and coalition officials said IS blew up the mosque complex last week. The Islamic State group has blamed a U.S. airstrike for the destruction, a claim rejected by a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. U.S.

Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP that coalition planes “did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.” IS had initially tried to destroy the al-Nouri Mosque in July 2014, saying the structure contradicted their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. Mosul residents converged on the area, however, and formed a human chain to protect it.

Last week’s destruction was only the latest in a long series of priceless archaeological and cultural sites that the militants have ravaged across Iraq and Syria. In addition to pillaging hundreds of treasures and artifacts, IS fighters have damaged or destroyed dozens of historic places, including the town of Palmyra in Syria, home to one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites; the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra; and the nearly 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud in Iraq’s Euphrates River valley.

After months of fighting, the IS hold in Mosul has now shrunk to less than 2 square kilometers (0.8 square miles) of territory but the advances have come at considerable cost. “There are hundreds of bodies under the rubble,” said special forces Maj. Dhia Thamir, deployed inside the Old City. He added that all the dead bodies along the special forces’ route were of IS fighters.

Special forces Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi acknowledged that some civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery in the fight for the Old City. “Of course there is collateral damage, it is always this way in war,” he said.

“The houses are very old,” he said, referring to the Old City, “so any bombardment causes them to collapse completely.” Al-Aridi said the clearing of the mosque will likely require specialized engineering teams since the militants have likely rigged the site with explosives.

The campaign to retake Mosul — formally launched in October — is in its final stages though the progress has been slow as the last militants there are holed up with an estimated 100,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.

The fight for the city has also displaced more than 850,000 people and while Iraqi forces have had periods of swift gains, combat inside Mosul has largely been grueling and deadly for both security forces and civilians.

In Baghdad, state TV declared the capture the al-Nuri Mosque with an urgent text scroll that said: “The State of Myth Has Fallen.”

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Balint Szlanko in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.

May 06, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Aliyah Hussein and the 25 family members sheltering with her in Mosul’s western Mahatta neighborhood are surviving by picking wild greens growing in a park near their home. Hussein mixes the vegetables with small amounts of rice and tomato paste to make a thin soup that is often her family’s only meal.

Her cousin Zuhair Abdul Karim said on a recent day that even with the wild greens, the food ran out. “I swear to God, we are hungry. (The Islamic State group) made us hungry. They didn’t leave anything for us, they even stole our food,” Hussein said. Her home sits just a few hundred yards (meters) from the front line in the battle for western Mosul.

As Iraqi forces continue to make slow progress in the fight against IS in the city, clawing back territory house by house and block by block, food supplies are running dangerously low for civilians trapped inside militant-held territory and those inside recently retaken neighborhoods. For families like Hussein’s, safety concerns make them unreachable for most humanitarian groups.

Although Hussein has technically been liberated, her neighborhood is still too dangerous for most humanitarian groups to reach. In the past week she said she received only one box of food consisting of rice, oil and tomato paste, barely enough to feed her entire family even for a single day.

“The women didn’t have lunch. Only the children and men have eaten,” Abdul Karim said, explaining that he and his family are now living meal to meal. “We don’t know if we’ll have dinner,” he said, “maybe or maybe not.”

Some families walk several kilometers (miles) to markets that have sprung up in neighborhoods that have been under Iraqi military control longer. But prices there are high. Most families have exhausted their savings and work is almost non-existent in Mosul, a city now been ripped apart by war.

“The humanitarian world needs to realize that there is a huge gap between people who are in the safe zone and people who are actually trapped in the no man’s land between the Iraqi controlled areas and … Daesh controlled areas,” said Alto Labetubun with Norwegian People Aid, one of the few groups operating in neighborhoods close to the front line. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Some 300,000 to 500,000 people remain beyond anyone’s reach, trapped in IS-held Mosul neighborhoods, according to the United Nations. For those civilians, siege-like conditions have prevented food supplies from reaching them for more than six months.

Most of those civilians are estimated to be in Mosul’s old city, where the final battles of the operation are expected to play out. If the fighting there lasts many more weeks, the U.N. warns the consequences for civilians will be “catastrophic.”

“We know we have a problem because when people reach our camps the first thing they ask for is food,” said Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. She said it’s impossible to measure exactly how many families are facing what she described as “serious hunger” inside Mosul, but the conditions of the people fleeing the city paint a grim picture of those who remain trapped.

Hundreds of infants and young children who recently fled Mosul are being treated for malnutrition, Grande said. Separately, she added that the U.N. had received reports that even baby formula in IS-held neighborhoods is now no longer available,

“If the battle goes beyond (the next few weeks), then we have a catastrophic problem,” she said. In the Wadi al-Hajar neighborhood hundreds of people queue for food boxes delivered by Norwegian People Aid. But most of them are turned around as there aren’t enough supplies to go around. A small crowd of women begged the aid workers for food after the last boxes were handed out.

Ibrahim Khalil, also turned away, said his hunger was so intense, he felt like he was starving. “Didn’t they claim they’d liberate us from Daesh?!” he said referring to the Iraqi government, “and they’d change our lives from misery to happiness?”

2017-04-26

HATRA – Iraqi pro-government forces said Wednesday they had seized the UNESCO-listed ancient site of Hatra from the Islamic State group, the latest archaeological jewel to be wrested from the jihadists’ grip.

Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitary forces fighting IS around Iraq’s second city Mosul said they had “liberated the ancient city of Hatra… after fierce clashes with the enemy”.

The Hashed forces launched their offensive at dawn on Tuesday and swiftly retook villages in nearby desert areas and the Hatra archaeological site. They had advanced to the edge of the adjacent town of Hatra itself.

A reporter with the forces said the advance was quick, supported by army helicopters and met by limited resistance from the jihadists.

Lying 120 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Mosul, the jihadists’ last urban Iraqi stronghold, Hatra is one of a string of archaeological sites recaptured from IS in recent months.

Known as Al-Hadhr in Arabic, it was established in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and became a religious and trading center under the Parthian empire.

Its imposing fortifications helped it withstand sieges by the forces of two Roman emperors.

Although Hatra finally succumbed to Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanid dynasty, it was well-preserved over the centuries that followed.

But after IS jihadists seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in a lightning 2014 offensive, they vandalized sculptures there as part of a campaign of destruction against archaeological sites they had captured.

The jihadists see such destruction as a religiously mandated elimination of idols — but they have no qualms about selling smaller artifacts to fund their operations.

– Damage unclear –

The full extent of the damage to Hatra remains unclear.

IS has lost much of the territory it once controlled amid twin offensives in Syria and Iraq, including several ancient sites.

In November, less than a month into a vast operation to oust the jihadists from Mosul, Iraq said it had recaptured Nimrud, a jewel of the Assyrian empire founded in the 13th century BC.

Journalists who visited immediately afterwards found shattered statues, wrecked ancient palaces and bulldozed structures in one of the region’s most important archaeological sites.

IS had smashed stone carvings and detonated explosives at the site.

Last month Syrian regime forces recaptured the famed desert city of Palmyra from the jihadists, who had destroyed priceless objects there too.

Also in March, Iraqi security forces recaptured Mosul’s museum, where IS militants infamously filmed themselves smashing priceless artifacts.

The five-minute video from 2015 shows militants at the museum in Mosul knocking statues off their plinths and smashing them to pieces.

In another scene, jihadists used a jackhammer to deface an imposing granite Assyrian winged bull at the Nergal Gate in Mosul.

The destruction at the museum and the archaeological sites drew widespread condemnation internationally and inside Iraq.

Iraqi pro-government forces backed by a US-led coalition have been fighting since October to oust IS from Mosul.

The Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella group for militias that mobilized to fight IS, have focused their efforts on a front southwest of Mosul, aiming to seize the town of Tal Afar as well as desert areas stretching to the border with Syria.

Iraqi forces advanced in west Mosul this week, closing in on the Old City as the jihadists executed civilians in a desperate bid to hold on to the last major Iraqi bastion of their crumbling “caliphate”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82797.

March 9, 2017

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi pledged to target Daesh bases in neighboring countries, namely Syria, if they pose a threat to Iraq, AlKhaleejOnlne.com reported yesterday.

On the margin of his participation in a meeting in the north of the country, Al-Abadi said: “With all respect to the sovereignty of all countries, I will never hesitate to target Daesh bases in the neighboring countries after getting their permission.”

He warned that the continuous battles in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya would proliferate terror.

Regarding the losses caused to his country due to Daesh attacks, he said: “The cost of damages to infrastructure caused by Daesh is estimated at about $35 billion.”

Meanwhile, he called for the international community to contribute to rebuilding the country and regaining stability in the areas liberated from Daesh.

Al-Abadi also called for Iraqi forces to unite under a national umbrella that takes the responsibility of protecting the country.

“I call for uniting the Iraqi forces,” he said, “there should not be forces affiliating to parties or political sides, but Iraqi forces for all Iraqis.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170309-iraqi-pm-we-will-target-daesh-abroad/.

2017-02-23

MOSUL – Iraqi forces on Thursday thrust into Mosul airport on the southern edge of the jihadist stronghold for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the region in 2014.

Backed by jets, gunships and drones, forces blitzed their way across open areas south of Mosul and entered the airport compound, apparently meeting limited resistance but strafing the area for suspected snipers.

“Right now thank God we’re inside Mosul airport and in front of its terminal. Our troops are liberating it,” Hisham Abdul Kadhem, a commander in the interior ministry’s Rapid Response units, said inside the airport.

Little was left standing inside the perimeter and what used to be the runway was littered with dirt and rubble.

Most buildings were completely leveled but Iraqi forces celebrated the latest landmark in the four-month-old offensive to retake Mosul.

While Iraqi forces were not yet deployed in the northern part of the sprawling airport compound and sappers cautiously scanned the site for explosive devices, IS appeared to offer limited resistance.

As Iraqi forces approached the airport moments earlier, attack helicopters fired rockets at an old sugar factory that stands next to the perimeter wall, sending a cloud of ash floating across the area.

The push on the airport was launched at dawn and Iraqi forces stormed it within hours from the southwest.

– US forces –

The regional command said elite forces from the Counter-Terrorism Service were simultaneously attacking the neighboring Ghazlani military base, where some of them were stationed before IS seized Mosul in June 2014.

Control of the base and airport would set government forces up to enter Mosul neighborhoods on the west bank of the Tigris, a month after declaring full control of the east bank.

All of the city’s bridges across the river are damaged.

The US-led coalition has played a key role in supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes and advisers on the ground, and on Thursday US forces were seen on the front lines.

The American troops are not supposed to be doing the actual fighting but in recent weeks have got so close to the front that they have come under attack, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.

“They have come under fire at different times, they have returned fire at different times, in and around Mosul,” Dorrian told reporters on Wednesday.

He declined to say if there had been any US casualties in the attacks, but an unnamed official later told CNN that several personnel had been evacuated from the battlefield.

The latest push to retake Mosul, the country’s second city and the last stronghold of the jihadists in Iraq, was launched on Sunday and involves thousands of security personnel.

They started closing in on the airport four days ago. It is unclear how many jihadists tried to defend the airport but US officials said Monday that only around 2,000 remain in Mosul.

There are an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped on the city’s west bank, which is a bit smaller than the east side but more densely populated.

It includes the Old City and its narrow streets, which will make for a difficult terrain when Iraqi forces reach it because they will be impassable for some military vehicles.

– Letters from the east –

The noose has for months now been tightening around Mosul and the living conditions for civilians are fast deteriorating.

Residents reached by phone spoke of dwindling food supplies forcing many families to survive on just one meal a day.

Medical workers say the weakest are beginning to die of the combined effect of malnutrition and the lack of medicines, which IS fighters are keeping for themselves.

An army plane late Wednesday dropped thousands of letters written by residents of the retaken east bank to their fellow citizens across the river.

“Be patient and help each other… the end of injustice is near,” read one of them which was signed “People from the east side.”

“Stay in your homes and cooperate with the security forces. They are your brothers, they came to liberate you,” read another.

A smaller than expected proportion of the east side’s population fled when Iraqi forces stormed it nearly four months ago but the United Nations is bracing for a bigger exodus from the west.

It had said 250,000 people or more could flee their homes on the west bank and has scrambled to set up new displacement camps around the city.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81637.