Iraqi security forces started a new push into Mosul on Thursday in an attempt to recapture the city held captive by the self-styled “Islamic State” (IS) since June 2014. Government troops pushed into several southeastern districts of the city in an effort to bring eastern Mosul under their control.
“The second phase of liberating the left bank in Mosul was launched, and our forces began advancing toward the Al-Quds neighborhood,” Abdulghani al-Assadi, a senior officer in Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, told the AFP news agency. “Now our forces clashed with the enemy and there is resistance.”
Slower progress than expected
Iraq started an offensive on Mosul two month ago, involving 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of the Kurdish security forces and Shiite militia. The campaign entered a planned “operational refit” earlier this month after advances into the city progressed slower than hoped since many civilians remained in the city and weather conditions were rough.
Military advisers from the United States, a key Iraqi ally in the international coalition fighting IS, will likely have a larger role in the upcoming battles as US soldiers are embedded more extensively with Iraqi forces.
Ground troops aided by airstrikes have captured about a quarter of the city, exclusively in eastern Mosul. Mosul is divided into two parts of roughly the same size by the Tigris River. IS controls western Mosul as well as strategically relevant roads leading into the city from the west. An airstrike recently disabled the last bridge across the Tigris.
Mosul is the largest city held by IS. The city in northern Iraq had a pre-war population of roughly 2 million, up to 1.5 million people are estimated to have remained in the embattled city. Its fall could mean an end to IS in Iraq. The jihadi group has tried to form a self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Northern Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi initially pledged that Mosul would be in government control by the end of this year. Given that western Mosul is still in control of IS, this deadline will likely not be met. On Tuesday, al-Abadi said it would take another three months to eliminate IS.
mb/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)