Iraq special forces chief says mission accomplished in east Mosul

Iraqi security forces patrol the eastern side of Mosul, Iraq, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)
Updated 18 January 2017

Iraq special forces chief says mission accomplished in east Mosul

BARTELLA/BAGHDAD: US-backed Iraqi government troops announced on Wednesday they were in “full control” of eastern Mosul, after routing Daesh militants from that part of the northern city almost exactly three months since the major operation started.
The achievement was a “big victory,” said Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, who commands the counter-terrorism forces, describing the success of the Iraqi forces as “unprecedented.”
Shaghatai, who spoke to reporters in the town of Bartella, just east of Mosul, said plans were now being drawn up to retake the western part of the city. He did not elaborate on when that part of the operation would begin.
Wednesday’s advance came after Iraqi troops over the past days intensified their push into the last IS-held neighborhoods in Mosul’s eastern sector, closing in on the Tigris River, which roughly divides the city. Stiff resistance by the militants, thousands of civilians being trapped in their houses by the fighting and bad weather had in the past slowed the advances of the troops.
However, skirmishes and clashes continued in some pockets along the Tigris in eastern Mosul, according to Iraqi special forces Maj. Ali Hussein who said his unit was still pushing into the Ghabat area along the river bank. Small arms fire could be heard and at least one civilian was wounded by mortar fire.
Also, some commanders on the ground disputed Shaghati’s claim of “full control” of eastern Mosul, with Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Raheed Yar Allah saying the eastern side “has not been fully liberated ... and the advance is still continuing.”
Yar Allah, who commands army operations in Ninevah, where Mosul is the provincial capital, said the special forces “have done their duty” in eastern Mosul.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi issued a statement, posted on his website, saying that “work is underway to liberate” Ghabat and the area housing Saddam Hussein’s former presidential palaces in eastern Mosul. He also vowed to liberate the western side of the city.
RELATED VIDEO: Top Iraq commander announces 'liberation' of east Mosul
Bridges across the Tigris, which bisects Mosul from north to south, have been hit by US-led warplanes to prevent Daesh reinforcements joining the fighting in eastern neighborhoods, and more recently by the militants trying to block a future westward advance by the military.
If the US-backed campaign is successful it would probably spell the end of the Iraqi side of the jihadist group’s self-styled caliphate, which also extends well into neighboring Syria, that it declared during a lightning offensive in 2014.
The Iraqi army, special forces and elite police units have operated in tandem to capture different areas of eastern Mosul. The army is mostly deployed in the north, the CTS in the east, and the federal police in the south.
Army units advanced into the northeastern neighborhoods of Qadiya 2 and Al-Arabi, the military statement said.
Abadi said late on Tuesday that Daesh had been severely weakened in the Mosul campaign, and that the military had begun “moving” against it in western Mosul, without elaborating.
But the prospect of retaking western Mosul looms heavy on Iraqi forces, despite all the support they have by the US-led coalition, as well as Sunni and Shiite volunteer militias. The western half of the city is home to some of Mosul’s oldest neighborhoods, with narrow streets packed with buildings that will further complicate the urban fight.
So far in the Mosul offensive, Iraq’s counterterrorism forces, which are by far the military’s most battle seasoned unit, have done most of the fighting, advancing from east of the city.
Regular Iraqi army troops are pushing from the city’s southeast and northern edges, and the federal security forces from farther to the west.
Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city and the Daesh group’s last urban stronghold in the country — fell to IS in the summer of 2014, when the militant group captures large swaths of northern and western Iraq.
The operation has also left more than 148,000 people homeless, according to the United Nations. Nearly 12,500 people have been forced to flee their homes just over the past week, the UN said.
More than 1 million people were estimated to still be living in Mosul in October, when Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake the city.


Tunisia heads to polls for keenly fought presidential contest

Updated 59 min 50 sec ago

Tunisia heads to polls for keenly fought presidential contest

  • The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living
  • The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes

TUNIS: Rarely has the outcome of an election been so uncertain in Tunisia, the cradle and partial success story of the Arab Spring, as some seven million voters head to the polls Sunday to choose from a crowded field.
Key players include media mogul Nabil Karoui — behind bars due to an ongoing money laundering probe — Abdelfattah Mourou, who heads a first-time bid on behalf of his Islamist inspired Ennahdha party, and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living, and he has found himself having to vehemently deny accusations that Karoui’s detention since late August is politically inspired.
The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes, albeit one with few clear political differences, brought forward by the death in July of 92-year-old president Beji Caid Essebsi.
He had been elected in the wake of the 2011 revolt that overthrew former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Publication of opinion polls has officially been banned since July, but one thing appears sure — many voters remain undecided, due to difficulties in reading a shifting political landscape.
“I am undecided between two candidates — I will decide in the polling booth,” smiled one citizen, Sofiene, who added “honest candidates don’t have much chance of winning.”
Some hopefuls have tried to burnish anti-establishment credentials in a bid to distance themselves from a political elite discredited by personal quarrels.
One key newcomer is Kais Saied, a 61-year-old law professor and expert on constitutional affairs, who has avoided attaching his bid to a political party.
Instead, he has gone door-to-door to drum up support for his conservative platform.
Another independent candidate is Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, a technocrat who is running for the first time.
However, he has the backing of Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party.
The crowded field of 26 has been narrowed slightly by the last minute withdrawal of two candidates in favor of Zbidi — former political adviser Mohsen Marzouk and businessman Slim Riahi, just ahead of Saturday’s campaign blackout.
But it is Karoui’s detention, just 10 days ahead of the start of the campaign, which has been one of the biggest talking points.
Studies suggest his arrest boosted his popularity.
A controversial businessman, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.
But his detractors portray him as a would-be Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian premier who they allege partly owns his channel.
On Friday, an appeal to have the Tunisian mogul released from prison ahead of the election was rejected, his party and lawyers said, two days after he began what his defense team said was a hunger strike.
The polarization between the different camps risks a derailment of the electoral process, according to Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Isabelle Werenfels, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, has called the vote a democratic “test” because “it may require accepting the victory of a polarizing candidate,” such as Karoui.
Distrust of the political elite has been deepened by an unemployment rate of 15 percent and a rise in the cost of living of close to a third since 2016.
Jihadist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector.
Polls open at 8:00 am (0700 GMT), although overseas voting stations for Tunisia’s sizeable expatriate population have been open since Friday.
Some stations will remain open until 6:00 pm, while others will close two hours earlier, for security reasons.
Some 70,000 security agents will be deployed on Sunday, including 50,000 focused solely on polling stations, according to the interior ministry.
Exit polls are expected overnight Sunday into Monday, but preliminary results are not expected from the electoral commission until Tuesday.
The date of the second round, which will decide the presidency, is not yet known, but it must happen by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls — October 6.
Those polls are supposed to be more significant, as Tunisia is an emerging parliamentary democracy.
But several candidates have called for presidential powers to be beefed up, despite years of dictatorship under Ben Ali.