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Iraqi police ‘ready to join assault on east Mosul’

By Reuters - Dec 12,2016 - Last updated at Dec 12,2016

BAGHDAD — Several thousand Iraqi federal police are ready to join the assault against the Daesh terror group in east Mosul, a spokesman said on Monday, reinforcing troops who have faced weeks of fierce counterattacks from the militants.

The extra forces are being deployed as the gruelling US-backed campaign to crush Daesh in its Iraqi stronghold enters its ninth week. Elite army troops have retaken a quarter of the city, but their advance has been slow and punishing.

The federal police units, around 4,000 strong, have been moved to an area southeast of the city, near where an army tank division last week made the deepest incursion into Mosul so far, briefly seizing a hospital used as a base by the militants.

The troops were forced to pull back from the Salam hospital, about
1km from the Tigris River which runs through the centre of Mosul, when they were attacked by suicide car bombs, mortar volleys and machine gun fire.

A spokesman for Iraq's federal police commander, Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, said the police units were near Qaraqosh, about 15km from the southeast edge of Mosul, and were ready to mobilise.

However, he said they were waiting for advances elsewhere on the eastern front, where elite Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) have made steady street-by-street progress, unlike last week's dramatic push by the armoured division towards the hospital.

"We are waiting for orders from the supreme commanders to start the offensive to defeat Daesh and clear the eastern part [of Mosul]," he said.

The CTS forces said on Sunday they had captured another district of east Mosul, Al Nour neighbourhood.

Accounts from Mosul are difficult to confirm since authorities have increasingly restricted international media access to the battlefronts and areas retaken from Daesh in and around the city.

Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi tried to play down concerns over the slow pace of progress, saying the recapture of cities such as Ramadi and Baiji from Daesh had taken four times longer than the Mosul campaign so far.

Visiting commanders near Mosul on Monday, a day after a trip by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter, Abadi also said the United States and other allies must continue to support Iraq's battle against what he said was a global threat posed by the militants.

Defeating Daesh "requires cooperation with all countries... and this is why we appeal to the new US presidency to take this into consideration", Abadi said.

The prime minister, who spoke to Donald Trump last month, said the president-elect promised "not just to continue American support but to increase it".

Carter told reporters on Sunday the battle for Mosul "hasn't been an easy fight [and] won't be an easy fight", but said it was going to plan.

He was speaking to reporters after meeting US Lieutenant General Steve Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces in Mosul, who said that more than 2,000 Daesh militants had been killed or badly wounded.

 

Police diverted

 

The police and CTS troops are part of a 100,000-strong Iraqi alliance which launched the campaign to retake Mosul on October 17. It includes soldiers, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation forces.

Defeating Daesh in Mosul, the biggest city it controls in Iraq or Syria, would be a crushing blow to the self-styled “caliphate” it declared in large parts of both countries two years ago, and might see it revert to more covert militant operations in Iraq.

Iraqi commanders say progress has been slowed by the fierce defence waged by the extremists, who they say have used a network of tunnels under the eastern half of the city and exploited more than 1 million civilians as human shields.

The fight in crowded residential areas has also restricted the use of heavy weapons and air strikes from the coalition.

For weeks, commanders have talked about opening a new front in southwest Mosul to stretch Daesh defences. But the despatch of the units to the southeast may delay that plan.

 

The forces in Qaraqosh had been due to join other police units who have reached within 3 or 4km of the airport on Mosul’s southwestern edge, and were expected to open the new front inside the city on the west bank of the Tigris.

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