BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops consolidated gains in their advance on the northern city of Mosul on Thursday, regrouping as they clear neighborhoods and houses once occupied by the Islamic State group.
In Mosul proper, where troops have a foothold in a sliver of territory in the city’s east, the special forces control the Zahra neighborhood, once named after former dictator Saddam Hussein, military officials said.
They have taken at least half of the Aden neighborhood and clashes were still ongoing there, while the regular army’s ninth division is stationed in east Mosul’s Intisar neighborhood, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters.
Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S.-led forces operating the key air campaign against IS, said that advancing troops and aircraft have destroyed some 70 tunnels the jihadis had been using to launch surprise attacks from inside densely populated areas.
“They’ve set up elaborate defenses, and we have to assume they’ll do anything among the civilian population because they don’t care about anyone,” he said, noting that airstrikes had hit hundreds of IS positions in the three-week old Mosul campaign.
Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, the country’s second largest city and the last major IS holdout in Iraq. Kurdish peshmerga forces are holding a line outside the city in the north, while Iraqi army and militarized police units approach from the south and government-sanctioned Shiite militias are guarding the western approaches.
The offensive has slowed in recent days as the special forces, the troops who have advanced the farthest, push into more densely populated areas of the city’s east, where they cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians who have been told to stay in their homes.
Brig. Firas Bashar, spokesman for Nineveh operations command, says troops south of Mosul have been stopped at the town of Hamam al-Alil while other forces push forward on the city.
To the northeast, about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the city, peshmerga continued to take territory in the town of Bashiqa, believed to be largely deserted except for dozens of IS fighters. They have had the town surrounded for weeks, and have assaulted it with mortar and artillery fire.
At an area church in territory freshly freed from the militants’ grip, priests rang bells for the first time in two years as the peshmerga worked to secure the town.
“We are so happy at the liberation,” said priest Elkhoury Alfaran Elkhoury at the Mart Shoomy Church in Bahzani, a village near Bashiqa.
“They want to give a message to the world, and that message is damage, their message is destruction, their message is death,” he said, highlighting damage to the church made by the jihadis while they occupied the area.
In New York, the U.N. said the progress meant that the days were numbered for the self-styled caliphate declared by IS from Mosul in 2014.
“This liberation operation marks the beginning of the end of the so-called ‘Da’esh caliphate’ in Iraq,” the U.N. envoy for the country told the Security Council on Wednesday, using the group’s Arabic acronym.
Jan Kubis said that the U.N.’s humanitarian agencies were preparing to shelter even more of the tens of thousands of displaced people as winter approaches. He also warned that reconciliation and restoration of confidence in the government was necessary if the victories against IS are to be lasting.
Associated Press writers Brian Rohan in Baghdad and Susannah George in Qayara, Iraq contributed to this report.
Mosul battle: ‘Iraqi forces’ tortured and killed villagers
Men dressed in Iraqi federal police uniforms are reported to have tortured and killed residents of villages south of Mosul, Amnesty International says.
Evidence gathered by the group suggests up to six people from the Shura and Qayyarah sub-districts were shot dead after being detained on suspicion of having ties to so-called Islamic State.
The federal police forces command has denied the accusations.
Pro-government forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul last month.
About 50,000 Iraqi security forces personnel, soldiers, police, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia militiamen are involved in the three-week operation.
On Thursday, troops were reportedly consolidating gains made in the eastern outskirts of Mosul, which they entered nine days ago amid fierce resistance.
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- Satellite images reveal IS barricades
Amnesty researchers visited the locations where the extrajudicial executions are alleged to have taken place as IS militants retreated, taking with them hundreds of women, children and old men apparently for use as human shields.
According to information they obtained, about 10 men and a 16-year-old boy who escaped being forcibly transferred by IS were tortured after handing themselves over to a small group of men wearing police uniforms in the Nus Tal area on 21 October.
Shortly afterwards, reinforcements arrived and the men were taken on foot to an open desert area between the town of Qayyarah and the Shura area.
Fighters dressed in police uniforms allegedly beat the group with cables and rifle butts, punched and kicked them, and pulled their beards – in one case setting a man’s beard alight. They were also made to lie on their stomachs and shots were fired between their legs.
Three men were then separated from the group. Amnesty said men in police uniforms then subjected them to particularly brutal beatings before shooting them dead. Their remains were found in the same area five days later.
The body of a fourth man, who was handcuffed and led away by a group of men in police uniforms after being beaten, was discovered nearby almost a week later, according to Amnesty.
Also on 21 October, another young man was found dead with two bullet wounds shortly after he left a house near the Mishraq sulphur factory, which IS fighters set alight before retreating. He was blindfolded with his torso exposed.
Amnesty said the sixth man was apparently shot dead as he ran towards forces that included men in police uniform while pulling up his clothes to show that he had no explosives.
“When the Mosul military operation began, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made clear that violations by Iraqi armed forces and its allies would not be tolerated. Now is the time for him to prove just that,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty’s Beirut office.
“The Iraqi authorities must immediately investigate these alarming reports of extrajudicial executions and torture,” she added.
A statement issued by the Command of the Federal Police Forces denied its officers had killed the six villagers, stressing its full commitment to adhere to Mr Abadi’s order to protect civilians and their property.
Officers had provided aid and medical support to those affected by the fighting, and had rescued 10,000 families being used by IS as human shields, it added.
Tags: Amnesty International, car bombers, caves, counter attacks by jihadist, counter terrorism units, Daesh, Federal Police Forces, human rights, human shields, Iraq, Iraqi forces, Iraqi forces tortured and killed villagers, Iraqi troops, Islamic state, Kurdish peshmerga, Mosul, Ninth Armoured Division, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Ramadi, Shi'ite paramilitary groups, snipers, suicide bombers, U.S. Apache helicopters, U.S.-led forces, Zahra neighborhood