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.


Trump warns Iran to ‘never, ever threaten’ US or suffer consequences

Updated 28 min 6 sec ago
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Trump warns Iran to ‘never, ever threaten’ US or suffer consequences

  • Rouhani warned Trump on Sunday: “Do not play with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it”
  • Trump has made Iran a favorite target since his rapprochement with nuclear-armed North Korea

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Sunday hit back at bellicose comments by Iran’s president, warning him of consequences “the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered,” as the US intensifies its campaign against the Islamic republic.
“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump said on Twitter in a direct message to President Hassan Rouhani, who earlier Sunday warned Trump not to “play with the lion’s tail,” saying that conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars”.
The US president, writing his entire message in capital letters, continued his riposte:
“WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”
The high-stakes verbal sparring is reminiscent of the exchanges Trump had last year with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, before the two leaders met in a historic summit last month.
Trump has made Iran a favorite target since his rapprochement with nuclear-armed North Korea. His comments Sunday night came after his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a major address to the Iranian diaspora in California, said Washington is not afraid to sanction top-ranking leaders of the “nightmare” Iranian regime.
Trump in May pulled the US out of a hard-won agreement with Tehran, also signed by Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, which lifted sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
The 2015 agreement was in response to fears that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb.
European allies maintain their support for the deal and have vowed to stay in it, though their businesses fear US penalties.
Following Washington’s pullout Pompeo unveiled Washington’s tougher line under which, he said, the US would lift its new sanctions if Iran ended its ballistic missile program and interventions in regional conflicts from Yemen to Syria.
“You cannot provoke the Iranian people against their own security and interests,” Rouhani said in a televised speech Sunday, ahead of Pompeo’s address.
Rouhani repeated his warning that Iran could shut down the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for international oil supplies.
“Peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace and war with Iran would be the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said.
On Saturday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the US does not abide by agreements.
“As I have previously said, we cannot trust in the words of the United States and even in their signature, so negotiations with the United States are useless,” Khamenei told a gathering of Iranian diplomats in Tehran.
Pompeo on Sunday noted that the US in January had already sanctioned Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary, for human rights violations.
“We weren’t afraid to tackle the regime at its highest level,” he said, also confirming that Washington wants all countries to reduce their imports of Iranian oil “as close to zero as possible” by November 4, or face American sanctions.
“There’s more to come,” Pompeo said of the US financial penalties.
“Regime leaders -- especially those at the top of the IRGC and the Quds Force like Qasem Soleimani -- must be made to feel painful consequences of their bad decision making,” said Pompeo, a longtime Iran hawk. He was referring to Iran’s special forces and Revolutionary Guards.
Roundly applauded by his audience, Pompeo affirmed support by Washington for protesters in the Islamic republic.
“The regime in Iran has been a nightmare for the Iranian people,” he said.
Washington’s top diplomat announced an intensified American propaganda campaign, with the launch of a multimedia channel with 24-hour coverage on television, radio, and social media.
This will ensure that “ordinary Iranians inside Iran and around the globe can know that America stands with them,” he said.
Regularly suspected of favoring regime change in Iran, Pompeo refused to distinguish between moderates and radicals at the heart of the Islamic republic.
“Our hope is that ultimately the regime will make meaningful changes in its behavior both inside Iran and globally,” he said.