Mosul: Iraqi forces evacuate 1,000 from frontlines

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Cii Radio| Sabera Sheik Essop| 27 October 2016| 25 Muharram 1438

Iraqi special forces have moved more than 1,000 people out of villages near the frontlines of the battle to retake the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-held city of Mosul and surrounding areas, where the UN says fighters have committed a number of abuses in recent days, officials said on Wednesday.

Haider Fadhil, special forces major-general, said residents of Tob Zawa and other villages were taken to a camp in the nearby Khazer region for their safety.

The International Organization for Migration says around 9,000 people have been displaced since the operation to retake Mosul began on October 17.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Erbil, said: “Up to one million civilians, if not more, are believed to be stuck inside Mosul. Ensuring their safety is as much of a challenge as defeating ISIL.”

ISIL, also known as ISIS, took control of the city in 2014. Mosul is now the group’s last, major urban bastion in Iraq.
The special forces were undertaking cleanup operations in areas retaken from the fighters to the east of the city, where troops uncovered a vast tunnel network used by ISIL to shuttle fighters and supplies by motorcycle, Major Salam al-Obeidi said.

To the south of Mosul, another Iraqi commander said ISIL has been withdrawing from the town of Shura toward the city, taking civilians with them to use as human shields and leaving behind explosive booby-traps to slow the troops’ advance.

“These small villages are secondary to them, Mosul is much more important,” said Brigadier-General Alaa Mehsin, of the Iraqi army’s 15th Division. “They don’t want to waste their energy.” He said a small number of fighters and civilians were still inside the town.

Also on Wednesday, the Kurdish Peshmerga took control of villages west of Bashiqa – a key town north of Mosul – after two days of clashes with ISIL.

Peshmerga General Bahram Yassin said ISIL was using car bombs, explosives and tunnels, as well as drones equipped with small bombs to strike his troops’ positions.

Meanwhile, sources told Al Jazeera that seven ISIL fighters and three civilians were killed in a US air strike north of Mosul.

Widescale offensive
Iraqi forces have been pushing toward Mosul from several directions since the launch of the widescale offensive, which involves more than 25,000 Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters and state-sanctioned Shia militias. It is expected to take weeks, if not months, to drive ISIL out.

The fighters have had months to prepare for the long-awaited operation.

“They’ve really dug in, literally, and started putting up the berms, the trenches, the tunnelling systems,” said a US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “And they’re quite extensive tunnelling systems, some of them stretching upward of two kilometers [over a mile].”

Source : Al Jazeera