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.


US puts up $10m reward for Hezbollah information

Updated 58 sec ago
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US puts up $10m reward for Hezbollah information

  • The money is for anyone who provides intelligence that allows the US to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways

WASHINGTON: The US on Monday offered a $10 million reward for information that would disrupt the finances of Lebanon’s Shiite militant movement Hezbollah.
The State Department said it would give the money to anyone who provides intelligence that allows the US to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways.
The areas include information on Hezbollah’s donors, on financial institutions that assist its transactions and on businesses controlled by the movement.
President Donald Trump’s administration has put a top priority on reducing the influence of Iran, the primary backer of Hezbollah.
The State Department listed three alleged Hezbollah financiers as examples of activities it was seeking to stop, with one, Ali Youssef Charara, allegedly funding the group by investing millions of dollars from Hezbollah in the telecommunications industry in West Africa.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pointed to a recent appeal by Hezbollah for donations as a sign of US success in curbing Iran.
On a visit last month to Beirut, Pompeo urged Lebanon to counter the “dark ambitions” of Iran and Hezbollah but was rebuffed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who said Hezbollah was not a terrorist group and enjoyed a wide base.
The United States has vowed for decades to fight Shiite militants in Lebanon, with memories still bitter over the 1983 attack on a military barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans.
Hezbollah, however, also functions as a political party, with posts in the current cabinet, and enjoys support among some Lebanese who recall its guerrilla campaign that led Israel to withdraw from the country in 2000.