Daesh militants capture police colonel, 8 other officers in Mosul

Iraqi security forces fire a rocket towards Daesh positions in Mosul, Iraq, on Monday. Iraqi forces are coming closer to recapturing the city of Mosul from the militant group. (AP Photo/Mohammed Numan)
Updated 21 March 2017
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Daesh militants capture police colonel, 8 other officers in Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq: Daesh militants captured an Iraqi police colonel and eight other officers on Monday after they ran out of ammunition during a skirmish in the battle for western Mosul, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.
The official, who declined to be identified, said the incident took place as government forces closed in on Daesh fighters in the Old City and other districts, in an offensive intended to crush the hard-line group in what was once the de facto capital of their self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate.
A media officer for the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response units, Lt. Col. Abdel Amir Al-Mohammedawi, denied that any police officers had been captured when asked for comment.
But the Interior Ministry official told Reuters the nine men were seized in the early hours of Monday in the Bab Jadid district.
Federal police sources later said the officers had been killed and Iraqi forces were trying to recover the bodies.
Daesh has a record of torturing and mutilating captives — civilian and military — so the incident will weigh heavily of the minds of the government troops in the street-by-street fighting for western Mosul, now in its second month.

Car bomb kills 23
In the capital, Baghdad, a car bomb killed at least 23 people and wounded more than 45 in a mainly Shiite southern district, police and medical sources said.
The blast occurred on a busy commercial street in the Amil neighborhood, the sources said. There was no claim of responsibility, but Daesh has carried out similar attacks in Baghdad and other cities as their hold on Mosul weakens.
Federal Police and Rapid Response units backed by helicopter gunships pressed their cautious advance on the Al-Nuri Mosque in western Mosul’s Old City on Monday.
The battle for Iraq’s second city is expected to last several more weeks. The offensive was launched in October with support from US artillery, air strikes and advisers, and the eastern side of the city on the Tigris river was secured in December.
The campaign for the western side is harder. The area is more densely populated, the streets are narrower and the houses closely packed together.

Residents flee
Attention has focused on the Old City and the Al-Nuri Mosque, from where Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi proclaimed the caliphate after his forces had seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Baghdadi and other Daesh leaders have fled Mosul, their whereabouts unknown, but the militants still hold several other western districts beyond the Old City and are defending them with sniper and mortar fire and suicide car bombs. US officials estimate that about 2,000 Daesh fighters remain there.
At the same time, Daesh forces in the Syrian city of Raqqa are under attack in a parallel conflict.
Fleeing residents said on Monday that the militants were forcing young men in western Mosul to fight for them in defense of the remaining pockets of their former stronghold — a sign that they were growing more desperate.
Ali, a former government worker, said he had hidden his sons when Daesh fighters came looking for recruits.
“It feels like the siege is ending. All they are doing now is defending,” he told Reuters. “I hid my sons in the basement and told them if you want my sons you will have to kill me.”
Residents who had left said Iraqi, Syrian and other foreign militants remaining in the area tried to make them stay.
“A French militant beat me and threatened me to force me to stay,” said one woman who gave her name as Um Tahseen.
A Federal Police intelligence officer, Captain Ali Al-Kinani, said the militants wanted to fill up their ranks as they had suffered heavy casualties.
Some fighters were wearing civilian clothes under their uniforms and would switch outfits to mix in with fleeing civilians, he said.
“We arrested dozens who said that they were forced by Daesh to carry arms or take a bullet in the head if they refused,” Kinani said.
Meanwhile, thousands of people took advantage of early morning rain and fog to flee Daesh-controlled areas and reach the safety of government lines.
The number of displaced people from both sides of Mosul since the start of the offensive has reached 355,000, Iraq’s immigration minister said. Some 181,000 had poured out of western Mosul since the start of the operations to retake that side a month ago, Minister Jassim Mohammed said.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad)


Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

A Syrian family rides with belongings on a tractor-drawn trailer as they flee from fighting in the southern Syrian province of Daraa on June 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Civilians flee fighting in Syrian southwest

  • Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week
  • Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally

MOSCOW, BEIRUT: Thousands of people have fled opposition-held areas of southwestern Syria being targeted by regime bombardment, a war monitor said on Thursday, as Damascus steps up attacks on an area near the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some 12,500 people had fled opposition-held areas of northeastern Daraa province in the past 48 hours.
The war has pivoted toward the southwest since the Syrian regime and its allies crushed the last remaining pockets of opposition-held territory near Damascus and the city of Homs.
Fighting in the southwest has been contained since last year by a “de-escalation” deal agreed by the US and Russia, Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally.
A major Syrian regime offensive in the area would risk an escalation of the seven-year-old war. The area is of strategic importance to Israel, which is deeply alarmed by Iranian influence in Syria.
Washington has warned it will take “firm and appropriate measures” in response to violations of the “de-escalation” deal.
Assad said earlier this month the regime, at Russia’s suggestion, was seeking to strike a deal in the southwest similar to agreements that have restored its control of other areas through withdrawals of opposition forces.
But he also said there had been no results yet and blamed “Israeli and American interference.” He said the territory would be recovered by force if necessary. Opposition fighters have vowed not surrender “an inch” of the territory to Assad, one of their commanders said earlier this week.

Russia ‘skeptical’ over UN report
Meanwhile, the Russian foreign minister on Thursday said he was “skeptical” about a UN report accusing the Syrian regime of committing crimes against humanity during the siege of Eastern Ghouta. The report published on Wednesday said forces loyal to the Syrian regime had deliberately starved civilians during the siege between February and April, among other crimes.
“We are in principle very skeptical toward the methods of this sort of work, whether it comes to war crimes or the use of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. When
questioned by journalists, Lavrov confirmed he had not seen the
report.

He said it was “based on data obtained through social networks, video that was filmed by witnesses,” rather than being put together on the ground.
The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the capital, ended in April when Damascus regained control of the rebel enclave.
As pro-government forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the UN-commissioned report said.
The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”
Russia has been involved in Syria’s civil war since September 2015. Its military support of the regime changed the course of the war, allowing government troops to retake more than half the country from rebels and the Daesh group.
More than 350,000 people have been killed in Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.