Mosul battle enters third month

BAGHDAD: IS fighters have stepped up counterattacks on Iraqi forces in Mosul amid bad weather as the US-backed offensive to capture their last major city stronghold in Iraq enters its third month.
With cloudy skies hampering coalition air surveillance, the militants carried out attacks in three districts of eastern Mosul, Al Quds, Ta’mim and Al Nur, over the past four days, residents and security officials said on Friday.
“We heard clashes and explosions and then somebody shouting on the loudspeaker,” said a Ta’mim resident.
The campaign that started on October 17 has turned into the biggest battle in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The humanitarian situation of the besieged population is causing alarm amid reports of food, water and fuel shortages, while the fighting is making access to hospitals difficult.
Nearly 100,000 people have fled the city, according to the International Organization for Migration.
More than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish fighters and volunteers are taking part in the offensive.
The latter are attacking the militants supply lines in a remote and semi-desert area west of Mosul to avoid fanning sectarian tensions with the city’s population.
The Iraqi military estimate the number of militants in the city at 5,000 to 6,000.
They are dug in amid the city’s remaining population of about one million, moving through tunnels and using suicide car bombs, sharpshooters and mortar fire to slow the advance of the Iraqi forces.
A mainly western coalition is providing air and ground support to the offensive, led by the US with more than 5,000 troops deployed in Iraq.
The fall of Mosul would mark the defeat of the ultra-hardline group in the Iraqi half of the caliphate that also extends over parts of Syria.
The city is by far the largest seized when they overran about a third of Iraq in 2014 and is the place where their leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, declared his theocratic dictatorship.— AFP