PHOTO: An Iraqi tank faces Islamic State fighters in Ali Rash, southeast of Mosul, on Saturday (Thaier Al-Sudaini/Reuters)
The Islamic State counter-attacked on Saturday in the east of Mosul, hoping to push back an Iraqi-Kurdish offensive trying to recapture Iraq’s second city.
ISIS fighters came from deeper in Mosul to target Iraqi special forces with suicide car bombs and mortars. They attacked the south part of the Gogjali district, taken by the Iraqi advance launched ferocious counter-attacks on Saturday in territory Iraqi special forces captured in Mosul’s eastern edges, highlighting the tough battle ahead as troops push into densely populated neighbourhoods.
Fighters from the armed group emerged from deeper in the city to target Iraqi soldiers with mortars and suicide car bombs. They also attacked the southern edge of the Gogjali district, which Iraqi forces captured last week, about 7 km (4 miles) from the center of Mosul.
Each side used mortars and automatic weapons in street battle, and Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. The fighting was most intense in the al-Bakr district, with sniper duels from the rooftops of two-story buildings.
Lieutenant Colonel Saad Alwan of the elite Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service said, “We’re facing fierce resistance. They’re digging trenches and using car bombs.”
Satellite images showed rows of concrete barricades, earth berms, and rubble blocking key routes to the center of Mosul.
To the south, Iraqi forces are still trying to establish control of the town of Hammam al-Alil, along the Tigris River about 15 km (9 miles) from the outskirts of Mosul.
Lieutenant-General Raed Shakir Jawdat said security forces were in the center of Hammam al-Alil, but he did not say whether ISIS fighters had been pushed out completely.
Residents in the town greeting Iraqi forces:
Jawdat said another unit advanced further north up the western bank of the Tigris: “Our elite forces have reached an area just 4 km (2.5 miles) from Mosul airport.”
He spoke of continued resistance, with the destruction of 17 bomb-laden cars during the advance.
To the north, Kurdish peshmerga are still about 5 km (3 miles) from Mosul’s outskirts.
PM Abadi “We Will Liberate You Soon”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the eastern front Saturday, bringing “a message to the residents inside Mosul who are hostages in the hands of Daesh — we will liberate you soon”.
Abadi maintained that progress in the campaign, which began on October 17, had been faster than expected. However, he said that further advances could be intermittent because of the Islamic State’s resistance.
“Our heroic forces will not retreat and will not be broken. Maybe in the face of terrorist acts, criminal acts, there will be some delay,” he said.