Iraq minister says ISIL leaders, families flee Mosul

Iraq minister says ISIL leaders, families flee Mosul

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
Iraq minister says ISIL leaders, families flee Mosul

Iraqi soldiers reload a weapon during clashes with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Makhmour, south of Mosul, Iraq, March 25, 2016. REUTERS photo

Iraq’s Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi has said that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) leaders and their families have sold their belongings and fled Mosul as Iraqi forces close in on the northern city.

Iraqi forces are conducting operations to set the stage for an assault on Mosul, the country’s second city that has been held by ISIL since June 2014, but the final push to retake it is likely still months away.

“A number of the families... and leaders of [ISIL] in Mosul, they and their families sold their belongings and withdrew towards Syria,” whose border west of the city, Obeidi told Iraqiya state television.

Some also sought to infiltrate towards Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, located north and east of Mosul, Obeidi said during an interview which was broadcast on July 30 night.

Mosul is the last city held by ISIL in Iraq, but retaking it poses a major challenge, and the operation could unleash a humanitarian crisis unless plans are made for people who would likely flee the fighting.

The Red Cross has said it believes that up to a million Iraqis could be displaced in the coming months by fighting against ISIL, including the operation to recapture Mosul.

ISIL overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but has since lost significant ground to Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes, training and other assistance.

Meanwhile, militants assaulted a gas facility and a nearby oil field in north Iraq yesterday, killing five people in rare attacks inside Kurdish-controlled areas of Kirkuk province, officials said.

Gunmen travelling on motorbikes opened fire on the gas facility’s guards, then killed four of its employees and planted multiple bombs before escaping, officials from Iraq’s North Oil Company and the Kurdish peshmerga forces said.

Militants also attacked the nearby Bai Hassan oil field, the largest in oil-rich Kirkuk province, killing an engineer and sparking a major fire, officials said.

A colonel in the peshmerga said that security forces killed two suicide bombers at the field while a third detonated explosives, setting oil tanks ablaze, and a fourth was still at large.