IS said to lose ground as troops close in on Mosul

Forces say 20 villages on the city outskirts secured on Day 1 of operation

Displaced Iraqis who fled fighting in the Mosul area play volleyball at a camp for internally displaced people in the northeastern town of al-Hol in Syria's Hasakeh province. Pic/AFP
Displaced Iraqis who fled fighting in the Mosul area play volleyball at a camp for internally displaced people in the northeastern town of al-Hol in Syria's Hasakeh province. Pic/AFP

Baghdad/Irbil: Iraqi and Kurdish forces closing in on Mosul said yesterday that they had secured 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first day of an operation to retake what is Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

With around 1.5 million people still living in Mosul, the International Organisation for Migration said it was preparing gas masks in case of a chemical attack by the jihadists, who had used such weapons previously against Iraqi Kurdish forces.

Tens of thousands of civilians could be expelled, trapped between fighting lines or used as shields, said the IOM, an aid organisation that sounded the alarm.

The fall of Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could also lead to land grabs and sectarian bloodletting between groups that fought one another after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

For US President Barack Obama, the campaign is a calculated risk, with US officials acknowledging that there is no clear plan for how the region around Mosul will be governed once IS is expelled.

The Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces from autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan began moving towards the city at dawn on Monday under air cover from a US-led coalition set up after the IS swept into Iraq from Syria in 2014.

Hoshiyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish official, said initial operations succeeded due to close cooperation between the Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, allowing them to clear IS from 9 or 10 villages east of Mosul. “Daesh is disoriented; it doesn’t know whether to expect attacks from the east or west or north,” he said.

The attacking forces entered another phase yesterday, he said. “It won’t be a spectacular attack on Mosul itself. It will be very cautious. It is a high-risk operation for everybody.”

A total of 20 villages were taken from the militants east, south and southeast of Mosul by Tuesday, as per statements from the two forces, fighting alongside one another for the first time.

Russia sets brief ceasefire for Aleppo
Russian and Syrian forces will halt hostilities for eight hours in the eastern districts of Aleppo, Russia’s military announced on a day opposition activists said airstrikes killed at least 36 people. The two militaries will observe a “humanitarian pause” between 8 am and 4 pm on October 20 to allow civilians and militants safe passage, Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of Russia’s general staff said in Moscow.

Iraqis fleeing IS face attacks: Amnesty
Paramilitary groups and government forces in Iraq have tortured, arbitrarily detained and executed thousands escaping areas controlled by the IS, Amnesty International said yesterday, adding that the abuses, often revenge attacks directed at Sunnis suspected of being complicit with the IS, must not be repeated. Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East research director, said there can be no justification for extrajudicial executions.

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