Due to poor weather and cloudy skies, Iraq special forces on Thursday paused temporarily in their push into the northern city of Mosul but still faced deadly attacks by the Islamic State group that killed at least seven civilians and a soldier.
In one attack, IS militants fired mortar rounds on government-controlled areas in eastern Mosul, killing seven civilians and wounding 35 others, said army medic Bashir Jabar who is in charge of a field clinic run by the Iraqi special forces.
In the city’s eastern Tahrir neighborhood, a car packed with explosives sped out from its hiding spot in a school complex, ramming into Iraqi troops’ position and exploding into a ball of fire. A soldier was killed and three were wounded, two officers said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
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The push into Mosul stalled because clouds over the city obscured the visibility of drones and strike aircraft, said Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil, adding that troops were using the pause to secure areas they have taken with checkpoints and sweep for explosives.
The U.S. coalition providing air cover and reconnaissance for the advancing forces has been a key element in the success of the Mosul battle so far, and the fighting stalls when the air power cannot be used.
On Wednesday, heavy fighting broke out in Tahrir, where an IS suicide car bomber disabled an Abrams tank belonging to the Iraqi army. Thursday’s attacks came as civilians were fleeing to camps sheltering displaced families or came out into the streets to seek food from troops and aid agencies, Jabar added. Two children were among the civilians killed, he said.
On a donkey-drawn wood cart, a grieving family carried the body of their 18-year-old son, wrapped in a white plastic bag. The slain teen’s uncle, Mohammed Ismael, said his nephew was in the street when a mortar shell landed nearby, wounding him fatally in the head.
Iraqi forces launched the long-awaited operation to retake Mosul nearly a month ago but have only advanced into a few eastern districts. The troops have faced fierce resistance, with snipers, mortar fire and suicide bombers driving armor-plated vehicles packed with explosives.
After swift initial advances into the city’s outskirts, the offensive slowed in more densely populated areas, where Iraqi troops cannot rely as much on airstrikes and shelling because of the risk posed to civilians, who have been told to stay in their homes.
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, is the last major IS holdout in the country. Driving the militants out of Mosul would deal a severe blow to their self-styled caliphate stretching into Syria.
On the sidelines of a climate conference underway in Morocco, Iraqi officials said they are confident the Islamic State group will be defeated. President Fuad Masum told The Associated Press that IS will be “wiped out” in Mosul, but didn’t say exactly when that would happen.
“Specifying a timeline is difficult because there are always surprises in wars,” he said, speaking about Mosul. “I think that even if it takes another month or two, in the end, ISIS will be wiped out militarily,” he added, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.