350 km ‘liberated’ from ISIL, says Iraqi police
REUTERS photoIraqi forces have “liberated” 352 square kilometers of territory south of Mosul since a wide-ranging military operation began earlier this week to recapture the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Iraqi police commander said Oct. 19.
Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, launched a highly anticipated offensive on Oct. 17 to retake Mosul, which is ISIL’s last stronghold in northern Iraq, which was overrun by the group in mid-2014.
“Iraqi forces have managed to clear 352 square kilometers [of ISIL elements] since the operation began,” Federal Police Commander Lt.-Gen. Raed Shakir said in statements cited by the Interior Ministry, state-run Anadolu Agency reported on Oct. 19.
No further details were given by the commander regarding particular areas cleared off ISIL elements.
ISIL militants have deployed suicide car bombs and fired mortar rounds to slow down the advance of Iraqi troops outside a key town near the militant-held city of Mosul, an Iraqi army officer from the 9th Division told The Associated Press on Oct. 19.
The officer said his troops were now around a kilometer away from Hamdaniyah, a historically Christian town also known as Bakhdida.
Since Oct. 18, ISIL has sent 12 car bombs, all of which were blown up before reaching their targets, he said, adding that Iraqi troops suffered a small number of casualties from the mortar rounds. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, did not provide specific figures.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis told reporters that it was known that civilians were being used as human shields.
“This has been going on for several weeks where we’ve seen civilians being forcibly detained and their movements being prevented where they can’t get out of Mosul. They are being held there against their will,” he told reporters.
Around 1.5 million people still live in Mosul and the International Organization for Migration (OIM) said ISIL may use tens of thousands of residents as human shields to hold onto their last stronghold city in Iraq.
The head of Russia’s General Staff said on Oct. 19 that Moscow was concerned that militants holed up in Mosul might escape to Syria, saying they should be killed on the spot instead.
“It’s essential not to chase the terrorists from one country to another but to destroy them on the spot,” Valery Gerasimov said in a statement.
This statement came one day after the Syrian army accused the U.S.-led coalition of planning to allow ISIL militants to flee Iraq’s city of Mosul across the Syrian border, saying it would confront this attempt by all means.
A statement by the army command said the plan entailed securing roads and safe passages into Syria to allow the militants to consolidate their presence and create “new battleground realities” in eastern Syria.
“Any attempt to cross the border is an attack on the sovereignty of Syria... and would be dealt with all forces available,” the army statement released on state media said.