Iraqi forces make new push in Mosul Old City

967037MOSUL: Iraqi forces said they launched new assaults in Mosul’s Old City on Monday after more than two weeks of only small advances and a high civilian death toll appeared to prompt a change in tactics.
A March 17 explosion that killed between 60 and 240 people according to conflicting accounts cast a shadow over the US-backed offensive to drive IS militants out of Iraq’s second largest city, and the parliament speaker spoke of ceasing operations until civilian casualties could be avoided.
The onslaught to oust IS from its last major Iraq stronghold has since October recaptured the whole east side of Mosul and half of the west, which contains the ancient quarter from where IS proclaimed its caliphate spanning large tracts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The civilian death toll has increased in the more densely-populated west of Mosul as the militants have used homes for cover, drawing air strikes that have killed residents.
Iraqi forces have discussed new tactics, which a US military official said might include opening a second front and trying to isolate the Old City.
“Federal police and Rapid Response units started to advance in the southwestern part of the Old City” towards the Al Nuri mosque area, the police said in a statement on Monday.
A federal police officer said the attacks were “the start of the operations to seal off the Old City and prevent IS from receiving reinforcements and fleeing”. The objective, he said, was to “tighten the noose” around IS.
Reuters reporters on the ground saw helicopters carrying out strikes.
Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service, which is fighting in districts to the west of the Old City, made some advances last week. If they push further north, this would help encircle the Old City.
US Army Brigadier General John Richardson, a commander in the US-led coalition, said on Friday that Iraqi forces were considering isolating the Old City rather than fighting through it while opening up a second front.
— Reuters