Published: Tue, May 30, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Iraq presses Mosul assault, calls civilians to flee

Late in January, Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, declared the liberation of eastern Mosul or the left bank of Tigris after over 100 days of intense fighting against IS militant.

Iraqi forces have taken another step toward wresting Mosul away from the clutches of the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group.

Daesh militants made advances in northern and western Iraq over summer 2014, after capturing swaths of northern Syria.

It had been weeks since she heard from them, she said, speaking to The Associated Press from a civilian screening center south of Mosul on condition of anonymity, fearing for her relatives' safety.

Tens of thousands of civilians in parts of Mosul held by Islamic State are struggling to get food, water and medicine, the United Nations said, days into a new push by US -backed Iraqi government troops to take the northern city.

All three neighbourhoods are located north of the Old City, a warren of closely spaced buildings and narrow streets that has posed significant challenges to Iraqi forces seeking to oust IS.

"The Iraqi government must ensure all exit corridors are genuinely safe for people to flee", it said.

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The newspaper cited anonymous US officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications. He added: "It allows you to communicate in a discreet manner".

But unlike past urban battles against IS in Iraq, the militants in Mosul are under siege by Iraqi forces.

According to the Iraqi Government, cumulatively, more than 742,000 people have been displaced from Mosul and its surrounding areas since 2016, when the military offense to oust extremists began, including 566,000 individuals from Western Mosul since mid-February.

"The joint forces have begun liberating the remaining districts", an Iraqi military statement said, Reuters reported. Aid groups have warned that a mass exodus of thousands of residents would likely be chaotic and deadly as the area lacks safe passageways - forcing those who flee to cross front-line clashes. The U.N. called on the Iraqi government and its partners "to undertake an urgent review of tactics to ensure that the impact on civilians is reduced to an absolute minimum, in full accordance with worldwide humanitarian law".

"This is the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II", Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of USA forces in Iraq, said in late March.

Thousands of Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia militiamen, assisted by US-led coalition warplanes and military advisers, are involved. Iran has provided weapons, training and advisers credited with important early victories against the extremists in 2014 before the USA began a campaign of airstrikes targeting the group.

The United Nations last week said up to 200,000 more people could flee Mosul as fighting moves to the Old City.

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