Fighting raged as Iraq’s special forces began their assault on Mosul itself on Tuesday, part of operations to drive the Islamic State group from the country’s second largest city. Troops opened up with artillery, tank and machine gun fire on IS positions on the edge of the Gogjali neighborhood, with the extremists responding with guided anti-tank missiles and small arms to block the advance. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition supporting the operation added to the fire hitting the district.
If Iraqi forces enter Gogjali neighborhood it will mark the first time troops have set foot in Mosul in over two years, after they were driven out by a much smaller force of IS extremists in 2014. From the nearby village of Bazwaya, smoke could be seen rising from buildings on the city’s edge, where shells and bombs were landing. The IS fighters quickly lit special fires to make dark smoke in order to obscure aircrafts’ view of the city.
Inside the village, white flags still hung from buildings, put up a day earlier by residents eager to show they wouldn’t resist the forces’ advance. Some residents stood outside their homes, and children raised their hands with V-for-victory signs. The families, estimated to number hundreds, will be evacuated from the village to a displaced persons camp, according to Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil of the Iraqi special forces.
For over two weeks, Iraqi forces and their Kurdish allies, Sunni tribesmen and Shiite militias have been converging on Mosul from all directions to drive IS from the city. The operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.