The new year has seen Iraqi government forces make new progress in their fight against ISIS, gaining territory on the eastern side of Mosul, the northern Iraqi city that is the terrorist group’s last stronghold in the country.
Even as Iraqi forces look poised to retake the eastern half of the city, ISIS still has the ability to strike elsewhere in the country, sometimes with the group’s favourite weapons: suicide car bombs.
In an airstrike on December 31, the US-led coalition destroyed a factory near Mosul producing the weapon, official called vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.
On the last two days of 2016, seven US-led coalition airstrikes near Mosul targeted ISIS tactical units, weapons systems, buildings and infrastructure, vehicles, and several VBIEDs. On January 1, six US-led airstrikes targeted ISIS weapons, bridges, and buildings, and destroyed five VBIEDs and three VBIED factories.
One strike near Mosul on December 31 destroyed a watercraft, which ISIS has used for transportation and attacks on Iraq’s waterways. On January 2, a US-led strike hit an ISIS vehicle in Bayji, a town about halfway between Mosul and the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Iraqi forces started operations to retake Mosul in mid-October. The advance bogged down in late December, while Iraqi forces were engaging ISIS fighters in close-quarters fighting in the neighbourhoods of eastern Mosul.
US advisers have also taken a more prominent role in supporting the Iraqi government’s offensive. US military personnel are now in the city assisting Iraqi forces, though they “remain behind the forward line of [Iraqi] troops.”
While government troops have advanced in the eastern half of the city in the weeks since, reaching two of the five bridges that connect the eastern and western sides of the city, ISIS retains control of western Mosul.
Iraqi officials have said “it’s possible” the city could be recaptured in three months or less, but the narrow streets and ancient buildings in that part of the city, plus the hundreds of thousands of civilians who remain in Mosul, meaning the fight for ISIS’ last Iraqi stronghold will only get bloodier and more complex.
More than a million civilians were thought to be in the city when the campaign against ISIS started about three months ago.
Since then, about 135,000 civilians are believed to have fled, and many Mosul residents in the liberated areas of the city have remained in their homes or the homes of friends or relatives.
Iraqis in the parts of Mosul freed from ISIS control are not out of the line of fire, however, as the terrorist group continues to fire artillery and other weapons at parts of the city it no longer holds.
The bloodshed is not limited to Mosul, however.
A report form a research group issued this week found that 16,361 civilians were killed in Iraq in 2016. Ninevah province, where Mosul is located, suffered the worst, with 7,431 people killed, while Baghdad was second, with 3,714 killed.
2016’s civilian deaths were below the numbers recorded in 2014 and 2015, but last year’s sum still makes it one of the deadliest years in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003.
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