US-backed Iraqi forces capture Mosul bridge, close in on government buildings

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Iraqi special forces members talk to a suspected Daesh militant in Al Mansour district as they advance toward western Mosul on Monday. (REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)
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Iraqi forces advance as they battle with Daesh militants in western Mosul on Monday. (REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)
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An image taken February 19, 2017 by Pleiades Satellite shows a view of the second bridge of Mosul's five damaged or destroyed bridges across the Tigris River where battles are raging between Iraqi forces and Daesh militants. (AFP / CNES / Distribution Airbus DS)
Updated 06 March 2017
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US-backed Iraqi forces capture Mosul bridge, close in on government buildings

MOSUL/BAGHDAD, Iraq: US-backed Iraqi forces captured the second of Mosul’s five bridges on Monday, giving a boost to their onslaught on Islamic State’s remaining stronghold in the western part of the city.
All of Mosul’s five bridges over the Tigris have been destroyed but their capture facilitates the movement of forces progressing alongside the river,which cuts Mosul in two.
The bridge seized, Al-Hurriya, is the second after one located further south. Its capture shields the back of the forces advancing toward a nearby government buildings complex.
“We control the western end of the bridge,” said a senior media officer with Rapid Response, the elite unit of the Interior Ministry leading the charge toward the complex. 
Recapturing the site would help Iraqi forces attack the militants in the old city. It would also mark a symbolic step toward restoring state authority over Mosul, even though the buildings are destroyed and not being used by Daesh.
The battle of Mosul, which started on Oct. 17, will enter an more complicated phase in the densely populated old city.
Civilians have been displaced in greater numbers in the past days, as the fighting rages in the middle of residential neighborhoods where populations have already been suffering for months from food, water and electricity shortages.
Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris on Feb. 19.
Defeating Daesh in Mosul would crush the Iraqi wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in 2014, over parts of Iraq and Syria.
The Iraqi foreign ministry meanwhile expressed “deep relief” at US President Donald Trump’s decision to remove Iraq from a list of countries targeted in a US travel ban.
A US-led coalition is providing key air and ground support to the Iraqi forces in the battle of Mosul.
“The decision is an important step in the right direction, it consolidates the strategic alliance between Baghdad and Washington in many fields, and at their forefront war on terrorism,” the ministry said in a statement.
Trump is expected to sign a new executive order on Monday banning travel to the United States by citizens of six Muslim-majority nations after his controversial first attempt was blocked in the courts, a White House source said
Baghdadi, Daesh’s leader, proclaimed the caliphate from Mosul’s grand Nuri mosque in the old city center which is still under his followers’ control.
“In the coming hours our forces will raise the Iraqi flag over the governorate building,” Federal Police Brig. Gen. Shaalan Ali Saleh told Reuters.
The militants have barricaded streets with civilian vehicles and rigged them with explosives to hinder the advance of Iraqi forces were also met with sniper, machine gun and mortar fire, as well as explosives dropped from light drones.
Federal Police units who also taking part in the offensive are using similar drones to hit the militants.
The Iraqi military believes several thousand militants, including many who traveled from Western and central Asian countries, are hunkered down among the remaining civilian population, which aid agencies estimated to number 750,000 in western Mosul at the start of the latest offensive.
The militants are using suicide car bombers, snipers and booby traps to counter the offensive waged by the 100,000-strong force of Iraqi troops, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shiite Muslim paramilitary groups.
They were also reported to have fired rockets and mortar rounds filled with toxic agents from the western side of the city to the eastern, government-controlled side.
More than 40,000 fled their homes in the past week, bringing the total number of those of displaced since the start of the offensive to nearly 210,000, according to the United Nations.
Aid agencies have expressed concern that camps to accommodate people fleeing are nearly full.
The United Nations last month warned that more than 400,00 people, more than half the remaining population in western Mosul, could be displaced.


Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

Updated 19 June 2018
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Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

  • The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria
  • Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

JERUSALEM: Israel declined to comment on Tuesday on a weekend air strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria after its US ally implicated it in the attack.
The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.
Fighters of Iraq’s Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, mainly composed of Iran-trained Shiite militia, have played a major role in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Daesh group in Syria as well as Iraq.
But their presence has sparked confrontations with both Washington, which has been supporting a Kurdish-led alliance that controls other parts of eastern Syria, and Israel, which fears Iranian-inspired attacks on its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.
Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
But US officials denied any involvement and instead pointed the finger at Israel.
“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” one US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military declined to be drawn on the US claims. “We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokeswoman said.
The military has carried out previous strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, but most have been significantly closer to Israel or the Israeli-occupied Golan.
Last month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.
Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired toward its forces in the occupied Golan by Iran from Syria.
Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria.”
“We will take action — and are already taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria,” the prime minister said.
“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”
Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Iran has been a close ally of the Syrian regime for some four decades and, with Russia, has been a key supporter in the civil war that broke out in 2011.