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IRAQ WARS
26,000 Iraqis flee west Mosul fighting in 10 days
By Sara Hussein
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) March 1, 2017


Iraq commander says forces control Mosul-Tal Afar road
Baghdad (AFP) March 1, 2017 -Iraqi soldiers are in control of the road linking west Mosul with the Islamic State group-held town of Tal Afar, isolating jihadists in the city, a senior commander said Wednesday.

Iraqi forces are battling inside west Mosul to retake it from IS in a major push launched on February 19, but have also moved through the surrounding desert to cut the area off from Tal Afar and increase pressure on the jihadists.

"We control the road by fire," said Staff Lieutenant General Qassem al-Maliki, the commander of Iraq's 9th Armoured Division.

Maliki said that while his soldiers have not reached the road, they can fire on targets on it, putting it under their effective control.

A team of US soldiers has been working with the 9th Division for nearly two months, including during their push through the desert to the Mosul-Tal Afar road.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other support have since regained most of the territory they lost.

The operation to retake Mosul -- the last IS-held city in the country -- was launched on October 17.

Iraq forces meet 'fierce' resistance in southwest Mosul: commander
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) March 1, 2017 - Iraqi special forces are facing "fierce" resistance as they battle the Islamic State group in southwest Mosul, a commander said on Wednesday.

Iraq launched a major push on February 19 to recapture the rest of Mosul from IS, retaking the airport and then pushing up from the south.

Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service is fighting "for the (Maamun) Flats area, which is considered very important for control of the Baghdad road and the surrounding neighbourhoods," Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi told AFP.

"The resistance is violent and fierce because they're defending this line and this line, in our opinion, is the main line for them," said Assadi, a top CTS commander.

The damage in the Maamun area is heavy, with homes destroyed, roads cratered and rows of crumpled cars, some of them piled one on top of another.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes and other support have since regained much of the ground they lost.

Iraqi forces launched a massive operation to retake Mosul -- the last IS-held city in the country -- on October 17, first recapturing its east before setting their sights on the smaller but more densely populated west.

At least 26,000 people have fled in the 10 days since Iraqi forces launched a push to retake west Mosul, where jihadists put up "fierce" resistance on Wednesday.

West Mosul is the Islamic State group's last urban bastion in Iraq, and its recapture would mark the effective end of the cross-border "caliphate" its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced from a mosque in the city more than two years ago.

Iraqi forces have yet to advance deep into western areas, but the fighting combined with privation and harsh IS rule has already pushed a growing number of civilians to flee.

Field teams received "26,000 displaced people from (west) Mosul during the past 10 days," Jassem Mohammed al-Jaff, the minister of displacement and migration, said in a statement.

The number who have fled is only a fraction of the 750,000 people who are believed to have stayed on in west Mosul under IS rule but it is expected to rise sharply in the coming days and weeks.

A commander in the elite Counter-Terrorism Service told AFP on Wednesday that IS put up tough resistance in the Maamun Flats area of southwest Mosul, which he said is considered "important for the control of the surrounding neighbourhoods".

"The resistance is violent and fierce because they're defending this line and this line, in our opinion, is the main line for them," Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi said.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command announced later in the day that CTS had recaptured Maamun Flats.

The damage in the Maamun area is heavy, with homes destroyed, roads cratered and rows of crumpled cars, some of them piled one on top of another.

Fleeing residents spoke of dire conditions inside the city.

"We're so hungry, we haven't eaten almost anything in four days," said Widaa, a 20-year-old who fled Maamun.

"There was firing all around our house, it was being destroyed bit by bit," she said.

The drive to retake the west of Mosul -- the smaller but more densely populated side of a city split by the Tigris River -- began on February 19, after Iraqi troops retook its east side the previous month.

- Civilians targeted by snipers -

Sniper fire is a significant danger in Maamun, said Kathy Bequary, the executive director of NYC Medics, a group providing emergency care from a mobile clinic.

"We're seeing a lot of serious gunshot wounds from snipers," Bequary told AFP.

"Most of our patients are combatants, but civilians are affected too. Two days ago, we treated a family -- a mother, father, son and daughter -- who were trying to escape Mosul and were targeted by snipers," she said.

"The five-year-old daughter was shot in the pelvis, a through and through wound. The girl was very, very critical."

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, announcing a "caliphate" incorporating swathes of Iraq and Syria.

While security forces initially performed dismally, they have since retaken most of the territory they lost, with backing from US-led air strikes and other support.

IS has also lost significant ground in Syria, and while it still holds the city of Raqa in that country and some territory in western Iraq in addition to in Mosul, the jihadists' "state" is crumbling.

The operation to retake Mosul was launched on October 17, involving an array of sometimes rival security forces and paramilitary groups.

But the brunt of the fighting has fallen to the CTS and the interior ministry's elite Rapid Response Division.

IRAQ WARS
Iraqi civilians flee fighting, privation in west Mosul
South Of Mosul, Iraq (AFP) Feb 28, 2017
Hundreds of civilians fled through the desert Tuesday to escape fighting and privation in Mosul, joining thousands of others who left their homes amid dire conditions in the city's west. Iraqi forces launched a major push on February 19 to recapture the west of Mosul from the Islamic State jihadist group, retaking the airport and then advancing north. Security forces reached the southern ... read more

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