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Iraq launches Mosul offensive against IS

  • Published at 02:31 pm October 17th, 2016
  • Last updated at 05:49 pm October 17th, 2016
Iraq launches Mosul offensive against IS

Iraqi government forces, with air and ground support from the US-led coalition, launched an offensive on Monday to drive Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, the militants' last major stronghold in the country. Helicopters released flares overhead and explosions could be heard on the city's eastern front, where Kurdish fighters moved forward to take outlying villages.

Helicopters released flares overhead and explosions could be heard on the city's eastern front, where Kurdish fighters moved forward to take outlying villages, a Reuters correspondent said.

The United States predicted Islamic State would suffer "a lasting defeat" as Iraqi forces mounted their biggest operation since the US withdrew its own troops in 2011.

Some 30,000 Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish Peshmerga militia and Sunni tribal fighters were expected to take part in the offensive to drive an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 Islamic State militants from Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people.

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"I announce today the start of the heroic operations to free you from the terror and the oppression of Daesh," Prime Minister Haider Abadi said in a speech on state TV, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

"We will meet soon on the ground of Mosul to celebrate liberation and your salvation," he said, surrounded by the armed forces' top commanders.

The Mosul offensive is one of the biggest military operations in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat," US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State. In 2014, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed from Mosul's Grand Mosque a "caliphate" in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. If Mosul falls, Raqqa in Syria will be Islamic State's last city stronghold. Mosul3

Kurdish fighters

The Iraqi Kurdish military command said 4,000 Peshmerga were taking part in an operation to clear several villages held by Islamic State to the east of Mosul, in an attack coordinated with a push by Iraqi army units from the southern front. In its first statement on the Mosul operations, the Iraqi army media office said the advancing troops destroyed a number of Islamic State defence lines. Strikes carried out by the Iraqi and coalition jets hit an unspecified number of the militants positions, it said. A column of black smoke was rising from one of the insurgents' positions on the eastern front, the Reuters correspondent said, and seemed to be from burning oil being used to block the path of the Kurds and obstruct the jets' view. "We are the real Muslims, IS are not Muslims, no religion does what they did," said a young Kurdish fighter in battle dress as he scanned the plain east of Mosul from his position on the heights of Mount Zertik.

UNHCR fears, seeks funds

The United Nations refugee agency said on Monday that up to 100,000 Iraqis may flee to Syria and Turkey to escape the Iraqi government's military assault aimed at ousting Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an appeal for an additional $61 million to provide tents, camps, winter items and stoves for displaced inside Iraq and the two neighbouring countries. "UNHCR is concerned that events in Mosul may cause up to 100,000 Iraqis to flee towards Syria and Turkey," it said. "Preparedness plans are underway in Syria to receive up to 90,000 Iraqi refugees." Early on Monday, Abadi sought to allay fears that the operation would provoke sectarian bloodletting, saying that only the Iraqi army and police would be allowed to enter the mainly Sunni city. He asked Mosul's residents to cooperate with them. The Iraqi army had dropped tens of thousands of leaflets over Mosul before dawn on Sunday, warning residents that the offensive was imminent. The leaflets carried several messages, one of them assuring the population that advancing army units and air strikes "will not target civilians" and another telling them to avoid known locations of Islamic State militants. Meanwhile, Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, has said his country is ready for the hundreds of thousands who may flee because of fighting, although, he added, there will be no influx of refugees if the operation is run correctly.

Turkey to take part in the battle

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday indicated that Turkey would play a role in the US-backed Iraqi offensive to retake the city of Mosul from jihadists, saying it was unthinkable that Ankara would stay on the sidelines. "We will be in the operation and we will be at the table," Erdogan said in a televised speech. "Our brothers are there and our relatives are there. It is out of the question that we are not involved."

Tactics of the battle

Iraqi forces will fight their way to Mosul and then seek to encircle the city before launching an attack inside it, tactics they have used in operations to retake other IS-held cities including Ramadi and Tikrit. The eventual assault into Mosul will likely be led by Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service, which has spearheaded most operations against the jihadists.

To reach Mosul, Iraqi forces will have to advance through several dozen kilometres of IS-held territory, including multiple villages.

IS will be vastly outnumbered in the battle and will seek to use hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, snipers, bombs, berms and trenches to slow down and bleed Iraqi forces. The jihadists have littered other cities with thousands of bombs, placing them in roads, buildings and houses.

The large civilian population inside Mosul may have limited the locations they could place explosives, but bombs will still play a major role in IS's defences.

[caption id="attachment_22613" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Mosul Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack IS in Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2016 REUTERS[/caption]
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