Iraqi forces battle to end IS grip in west mosul

Indo Asian News Service

Baghdad, March 12 (IANS) Iraqi special forces battling the Islamic State group have pushed deeper into west Mosul, where a commander said jihadist resistance is weakening under repeated assaults.

The IS is facing simultaneous offensives by the government forces, Turkish-backed rebels and a US-supported alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, in western Mosul.

The old city Mosul could see some of the toughest fighting of the operation -- which has not yet begun -- nor has fighting inside the city of Raqqa, IS's main bastion in Syria.

Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service attacked the Al-Amil al-Oula neighbourhood of west Mosul early on Friday, and were battling the jihadists inside it, said CTS commander Major General Maan al-Saadi.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command later announced that CTS had retaken that area along with Al-Amil al-Thaniyah neighbourhood.

According to Saadi, the IS resistance had diminished following a string of losses since the launch of the government's assault on west Mosul on February 19.

"After we broke the (first) defensive line, they lost many fighters," he said.

"The enemy has begun to collapse. They have lost many of their combat capabilities. Today, the enemy sent (suicide car bombs), but not in the numbers they sent at the beginning of the battle."

Seif Rasheed, 28, a medic with the CTS unit operating from a house behind the lines in the Shuhada district, said it received one dead and one wounded on Friday.

"The dead was shot in the head and the wounded in the neck and hip," he said. "Daesh (IS) are hiding in homes, opening the doors and firing at troops from just a few metres."

Supplies to the IS-held parts of Mosul have dwindled over the past week as the army shut the main route westward.

"We used to get potatoes, vegetables and milk from Badoosh, but these areas are no longer accessible," said a man in Zanjeely district over the phone.

"The entire family lives in one room and mortars are falling like rain."

In another sign that the jihadists are feeling the squeeze, their chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has abandoned Mosul, leaving local commanders behind to oversee defence of the city.

Iraqi forces launched their operation to retake Mosul in October, and recaptured the whole east bank of the Tigris River that runs through it in January.

They then set their sights on the smaller but more densely populated west side of the city.

More than 215,000 people are displaced as a result of the battle for Mosul, according to the International Organisation for Migration. Others fled their homes but later returned.

In neighbouring Syria, the jihadists lost more ground to a Russian-backed offensive by government forces east of second city Aleppo.

Russia's military on Friday said it had carried out over 450 airstrikes in support of the offensive over the past week, killing more than 600 IS fighters, and destroying 16 infantry fighting vehicles and 41 machinegun-mounted pickups.

Washington, too, has turned up the heat on the IS in Syria, doubling its troops in the country with the deployment of 400 reinforcements to back the offensive on Raqqa.