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Stiff resistance, poor visibility slows advances on Mosul

Iraqi forces have entered eastern districts of Mosul [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 November, 2016

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Iraqi forces are proceeding with caution into eastern districts of the IS-held city with concerns elsewhere that Peshmerga forces are developing plans to annex Bashiqa for the Kurdistan region.

Iraqi forces are advancing cautiously into eastern districts of Mosul on Friday a day after assaults on the Islamic State group-held city were paused due to poor visibility.

Airstrikes, automatic fire, and artillery could all be heard in Mosul and surrounding environs from dawn on Friday with at least one soldier reportedly killed during operations, and at least 7 civilians killed in IS-shelling of Iraqi army controlled areas of Eastern Mosul.

According to officers from the Iraqi army who spoke to The Associated Press, the Iraqi forces aim to seize control of Mosul’s Tahrir district before moving into the adjacent Muhabareen area.

The battle to retake Mosul from IS, which overran the city in 2014, began on 17 October but while progress has been steady, to date Iraqi forces have only advanced into a few eastern districts and have faced fierce resistance in the process with IS deploying snipers, mortar fire and suicide truck bombers in attempts to stymie progress.

Hold-ups amid stiff resistance and restricted visibility

Poor visibility on Thursday restricted the capabilities of drones and warplanes to detect realities on the ground leading Iraqi forces instead to secure areas they had seized, establish checkpoints, and surveil for hidden explosives.

The pause also provided an opportunity for Iraqi troops and aid organisations to distribute food aid and vital supplies to displaced civilians, during a week in which the UN announced that it had made its first aid delivery to Mosul in over two years.

Elsewhere in the battle for Mosul local Iraqi media reported on Thursday that the Iran-backed Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces, or Hashd al-Sha’abi – whom international actors have warned the Iraqi state to keep away from the frontline due to concerns of sectarian-motivated reprisals – had handed over 16 villages in the vicinity of Tal Afar, West of Mosul, to the Iraqi army’s 15th division, citing sources within Nineveh’s provincial council.

Territorial concerns and “land grabs”

Meanwhile, on Friday, The New Arab’s Arabic edition noted that Peshmerga forces have been accused of attempting to annex the town of Bashiqa, located north-east of Mosul to the Kurdistan region.

Bashiqa fell within the opening days of the current Mosul campaign and since its fall local officials in the area are said to have, in particular, expressed concern at the construction of a trench outside the city isolating it from Mosul.

According to a military source who spoke on condition of anonymity the trench, to date, spans a distance of around 22 km.

Concerns have been raised that various Iraqi forces involved in the assault on Mosul – the Kurdish Peshmerga, Hashd al-Sha’abi, Iraqi army, and other forces – could attempt to extend their authority into areas of Iraq not under control, with land grabs sparking consequent conflict.

Mosul is the final remaining major stronghold of IS in Iraq, and defeat would signal a major blow to the extremist group’s aspirations. However, as evidenced by recent attacks in Kirkuk, IS retains the capacity to strike outside areas under its control.

On Friday, IS claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a wedding in Fallujah on Thursday night that killed at least 10 people, and wounded a further 32. The deadly incident marked the second of the week after two suicide bombers targeted security checkpoints in the city on Monday killing six people.

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