Iraqi forces hunt for bombs and militant holdouts in west Mosul

DETERMINED: Troops made steady progress in their battle to retake Iraq’s second city from IS –

Mosul: Iraqi forces worked to clear bombs and flush out any remaining extremists in retaken areas of west Mosul on Wednesday to set the stage for an offensive against the Old City.
Supported by US-led air strikes, the forces have made steady progress in their battle to seize Iraq’s second city from the IS group, announcing the recapture of two more areas on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Haider al Abadi vowed he would “not hesitate” to strike extremists in neighbouring countries as well if they posed a threat, after Iraq carried out air raids in Syria last month. Iraqi forces have recaptured a series of neighbourhoods in Mosul as well as the provincial government headquarters and the museum where IS militants infamously filmed themselves destroying priceless artefacts.
The extremists are under mounting pressure from twin US-backed ground offensives targeting Mosul and their other main stronghold, Raqa in Syria.
IS overran large areas of both countries in 2014, declaring a cross-border “caliphate” in territory it controlled, but has since lost ground.
Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul on October 17, first recapturing its eastern side before setting their sights on its smaller but more densely populated west. The extremists have fought back with car bombs, roadside bombs, snipers and weaponised drones.
The focus on Wednesday was on clearing the newly retaken areas and defusing bombs in booby-trapped houses, said Lieutenant Colonel Abdulamir al Mohammedawi of the elite Rapid Response Division.
The battle for the Old City may see some of the toughest fighting in west Mosul. “The liberation of the city centre is a first and very important step for beginning the liberation of the Old City,” Mohammedawi said, referring to an area near the Old City that Iraqi forces have recaptured in recent days.
“The Old City is a very difficult area” of narrow streets and closely spaced houses, he said.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under extremist rule in the Old City.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said on Wednesday the elite Counter-Terrorism Service had recaptured the neighbourhoods of Al Mansur and Al Shuhada al Thaniya in west Mosul.
It said soldiers and pro-government militiamen had retaken Badush prison northwest of Mosul where IS reportedly killed up to 600 people execution-style and also were said to hold more than 500 kidnapped women from the Yazidi minority.
The JOC did not specify whether anyone was still being held at the prison when it was recaptured.
The fighting in the city’s western districts has forced more than 51,000 people to flee their homes, says the International Organization for Migration.
But 750,000 people are believed to have remained in west Mosul under IS, whose fighters have used civilians as human shields to defend themselves from approaching forces.
“We couldn’t go outside because of the IS fighters,” said Manhal, a 28-year-old resident of Al Danadan, a district now under Iraqi control.
“Those who went out were taken hostage. The fighting was very violent. Mortar rounds fell on our roof and inside our yard,” he added.
Federal police said anti-IS forces were now setting up defences in recaptured areas of Mosul as they eyed the next phase. — AFP