Iraq forces reach key Mosul bridge

Iraq forces reach key Mosul bridge

Iraq forces reach key Mosul bridge Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in west Mosul reached the city’s southernmost bridge on Feb. 27, a key step in efforts to defeat the jihadists in their stronghold, a spokesman said, as thousands of civilians fled the fighting.

The move, a little more than a week into a major push on Mosul’s west bank, could allow Iraqi forces to extend a floating bridge between the city’s two halves and pile pressure on the jihadists.

“The Rapid Response force and the federal police have liberated Jawsaq neighborhood and now control the western end of the fourth bridge,” Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told AFP.

The spokesman for the Joint Operations Command was referring to the southernmost of five bridges - all of which are damaged and unusable - across the Tigris River that divides the northern Iraqi city.

“That means the bridge is under control on both sides,” said Rasool.

Government forces retook the east bank from ISIL a month ago, completing a key phase in an offensive on Mosul that began on Oct. 17, 2016, and has involved tens of thousands of fighters.

Engineering units will be expected to deploy a so-called “ribbon bridge” across the Tigris that will allow to connect the western side’s active front lines to the already retaken east bank.

Rasool said that the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response force had now fully retaken two neighborhoods on the west bank, while forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service have retaken another further west.

“The street fighting is intense, these are populated neighborhoods,” Rasool said. “But our forces are fighting deep in the west, the enemy is broken.” 

Nearly a month after wresting back full control of the city’s east bank from the jihadists, Iraqi forces launched a fresh push on the western side, which is a little smaller but very densely populated.

They made quick initial gains, blitzing through the last open areas south of the city limits, facing limited resistance from ISIL as they took back the airport and a nearby military base.

ISIL fighters have hunkered down deep inside the city and while Iraqi forces are still advancing steadily, the battle is expected to get tougher the farther they venture toward the center.

Since government forces broke through the city’s southern limits last week, more than 10,000 civilians have fled ISIL-held areas, seeking medical assistance, food and water, Iraqi commanders said.

About 1,000 civilians arrived in the early hours of Feb. 27 at the sector held by the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), the wounded taken to the clinic of this elite unit, while men were screened to make sure they are not ISIL members.

Among the people treated at the CTS clinic was a little girl with a blood on her face and a woman with shrapnel in her hand, lying immobile, apparently unconscious.

An old man who came with them said about 20 people were sheltering in their house when it was hit by an air strike two days ago in the southwestern Maamoun district.

Those who managed to escape have had to walk through the desert for at least an hour to reach government lines. 

The United Nations World Food Programme said on Feb. 27 it was extremely concerned about dire humanitarian situation facing families in western Mosul.

A Reuters reporter saw several trucks teeming with people, lifting columns of sand and dust as they drove away from the city. 

One had two women and infants riding in the cabin. The rest stood on the open bed, held on to the truck from outside, or sat on top of the cabin. “They booby trapped our homes and our cars,” said an old woman.