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The battle for Mosul: What we know

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Baghdad, Iraq | AFP | 

Elite Iraqi forces are facing tough resistance as they battle the Islamic State group in eastern Mosul. Here are some facts about the country’s biggest military operation in years:

Where are the Iraqi forces?

Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service pushed into the Al-Karama area of eastern Mosul but faced heavy resistance and pulled some units back on Friday. CTS said its forces were again engaged in fierce fighting in east Mosul the following day.

Soldiers have also advanced toward the northern and southeastern edges of the city. Forces from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region were active in the early days of the operation, but federal troops have since taken the lead in the fighting.

On the southern front, army and police forces have launched a multi-pronged attack on Hamam al-Alil, an area located about 14 kilometres (8 miles) from the outskirts of Mosul, the military says.

The Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella group for pro-government paramilitary forces that is dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, are fighting southwest of Mosul in a bid to retake the town of Tal Afar, which lies between the city and Syria.

They have gained ground in recent days, but the western approach to Mosul remains largely open for now.

What is the US-led coalition doing?

The US-led anti-IS coalition is carrying out air strikes against the jihadists as well as targeting them with artillery. It has hit IS with some 3,000 bombs, missiles, rockets and shells since the drive for Mosul began on October 17.

But some Iraqi commanders have still complained that there are not enough strikes, and said they want the coalition to step up its campaign.

Most of the more than 7,000 coalition military personnel in Iraq are in advisory or training roles, but there are also those carrying out artillery strikes, as well as special forces personnel who have carried out raids against IS.

How are the jihadists responding?

IS has targeted attacking Iraqi forces with suicide bombers, mortar rounds and small arms fire, in addition to bombs hidden in houses, buildings and roads that make up an integral part of the jihadists’ defences and still cause casualties even after they withdraw.

Inside the territory they still control, the jihadists are responding with the same brutality that has been the hallmark of their more than two-year rule.

Mosul residents told AFP that IS has forcibly gathered civilians in and around the city for possible use as human shields, corroborating United Nations reports of similar kidnappings.

The UN has also said it has received reports that IS has executed nearly 300 people in the Mosul area since October 25.

The jihadists have also staged diversionary attacks, including in the northern city of Kirkuk and the western town of Rutba, in attempts to draw attention and forces away from the Mosul theatre.

How are civilians affected?

As Iraqi forces advance, thousands of civilians have fled IS-held areas to escape both jihadist rule and impending fighting.

The US says up to one million people could be displaced by the battle for the city — a major problem given that existing, under-construction and planned camps can only house about half that number.

Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration said Saturday that it had received 9,000 displaced Iraqis over the previous two days, while more than 29,000 have been displaced since the operation began.

Displacement is especially difficult for rural farming communities, whose wealth lies in fields and livestock that they cannot take to camps.

The situation for displaced Iraqis will get even more difficult as winter rains and colder weather set in.

 

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