Iraq, US offer differing accounts of Mosul progress

Displaced Iraqis receive aid rations at the Hammam Al-Alil camp, south of Mosul. (AFP)
Updated 17 March 2017
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Iraq, US offer differing accounts of Mosul progress

MOSUL: Iraqi and US commanders offered conflicting accounts Thursday of progress in western Mosul, where US-backed Iraqi forces have been battling the Daesh group for nearly a month as they try to retake the remainder of the city.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, the American commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, said the troops had recaptured “a little over a third” of neighborhoods west of the Tigris River, while Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, said they had retaken up to 60 percent, with fighting still underway. Iraq declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January.
Iraqi officials have overstated gains in the past, declaring areas liberated from Daesh militants only to see the resumption of fighting or militant attacks. The extremists have targeted eastern Mosul with bombings and other attacks on several occasions in recent weeks.
Frontline commanders meanwhile said progress has been slow over the past week, with troops advancing just a few hundred meters in the face of Daesh car bomb attacks.
Lt. Ahmed Mahmoud of the militarized Federal Police said his unit was waiting until special forces cleared nearby neighborhoods before moving in to hold the territory. He spoke near Mosul’s antiquities museum, which Iraqi forces recaptured earlier this month.
He said Iraqi forces had launched three coordinated thrusts in western Mosul, hoping to overwhelm Daesh defenses.
The militants captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city when they swept across the country’s north in the summer of 2014. Iraqi forces have gradually clawed back territory since then and launched a massive operation to retake Mosul in October.
Despite US air support, the Iraqi advance has been slowed by snipers, roadside explosives and suicide car and truck bombs.
A suicide attacker driving a bulldozer rigged with explosives plowed through the Federal Police’s front line on Wednesday, killing more than 10 soldiers and wounding several others, according to a Federal Police medic who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Iraq’s military does not release casualty figures.
“Federal police and Rapid Response units imposed their complete control over the Al-Basha Mosque... and the Bab Al-Saray market in the Old City,” Lt. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, a federal police commander, said in a statement.
Iraqi forces advanced into the Old City and around Al-Nuri Mosque on Friday trying to seal off a key road to prevent militants sending in suicide bombers.
A helicopter fired rockets into the area and heavy gunfire and mortar blasts echoed as troops fought in districts near the mosque, where Daesh’s black flag hangs from its leaning minaret.
“Federal police and rapid response forces completely control the mosque, Al-Adala street and Bab Al-Saray market inside the Old City,” a federal police spokesman said. “Forces are trying to isolate the Old City area from all sides and then start an offensive from all sides.”
From a distance, the exhausted Iraqis fleeing parts of Mosul controlled by Daesh appeared to be pushing their worldly possessions on handcarts.
By the time they reached Reuters journalists it was clear that their cargo was far more precious and more tragic. One man lifted a grubby, fluffy blanket to reveal the dust and blood-covered body of a child, one of several piled up on the cart.
“This is my son. He is gone,” he said, describing how his family’s home had been hit by an airstrike. Iraqi helicopters have been pounding west Mosul with missiles.
“This happened because of airstrikes. These were in their homes and the airstrikes killed them,” the man said, showing other small bodies, cut by shrapnel or debris, on the cart.
He said the strike had happened three days earlier close to Mosul’s train station, an area the family had only just moved to after fleeing their home in the Wadi Hajar neighborhood where fighting had become too intense.
Other families trekking down the road toward buses sent to take civilians to camps used similar carts to transport elderly relatives.
They will join the 255,000 or so people already displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since October when the US-backed push began — creating a huge challenge for aid agencies delivering food and shelter to people who have known years of suffering.


Palestinians to cut civil servant salaries after Israeli tax freeze

Updated 15 min 43 sec ago
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Palestinians to cut civil servant salaries after Israeli tax freeze

  • Israel's security cabinet on Sunday approved the freezing of $138 million (122 million euros) over the PA's payments to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis
  • Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Wednesday he would not accept anything but full payment of the tax transfers owed by Israel

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian finance minister on Thursday announced salary cuts for civil servants, days after Israel said it would withhold tens of millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority.
Israel's security cabinet on Sunday approved the freezing of $138 million (122 million euros) over the PA's payments to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis.
Israel, which collects taxes on behalf of the PA, says the payments encourage further violence.
The PA claims they are a form of welfare to families who have lost their main breadwinner.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Wednesday he would not accept anything but full payment of the tax transfers owed by Israel.
The PA, which is already running a deficit, will "pay the salaries of civil servants in time, but they will be reduced", said PA finance minister Shukri Bishara after a meeting with EU representatives in Ramallah.
The cuts will not apply to salaries "paid to pensioners and families of martyrs, wounded or prisoners", he added, adding that wages below 2,000 shekels ($550) would also not be affected.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes in their conflict with Israel. Palestinian leaders often venerate them as martyrs.
Under a 1994 agreement, Israel collects around $190 million each month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israeli ports.
The money it then transfers to the PA is the authority's most important source of revenue.
The Palestinians want EU countries to pressure the Israeli government to rescind its decision, said Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy of Abbas's Fatah party.
Palestinian leaders will take steps to "boycott Israeli goods", he said, adding they had already prepared "a list of Israeli products that have local (Palestinian) equivalents".