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Iraqis demand food from troops in newly cleared areas of Mosul

Published 15/11/2016

Iraqi troops fire a 155mm shell towards Islamic State positions in Mosul (AP)
Iraqi troops fire a 155mm shell towards Islamic State positions in Mosul (AP)

Hundreds of Iraqi civilians have spilled into the streets in eastern Mosul areas recently retaken from Islamic State to demand food from troops as rations run low in their neighbourhoods, an Iraqi officer said.

About 700 residents gathered in three areas of the city's Zahra and Qadisiya neighbourhoods, the latter of which was the scene of a fierce IS counter-attack a day earlier, said Major Salam al-Obeidi.

The Iraqi troops were sharing what rations they have with the civilians.

"This is a problem for us because the food we have is not enough for them and we're waiting for more food to be sent from the government," Maj al-Obeidi said. "Now the Iraqi soldier is giving his food to the civilians."

Iraq launched a major offensive last month to drive IS out of the northern city, the country's second largest, which is still home to more than a million civilians.

Special forces have captured a foothold in the city's east, and have been advancing slowly over the past week to avoid casualties and civilian deaths as IS fighters emerge to attack from the dense, urban landscape, often with armour-plated suicide car bombs.

Near the north-eastern Zahra district, explosions and gunfire erupted on Tuesday as special forces advanced. IS militants fired mortars on the troops from apartment windows, wounding at least seven civilians when the shells landed in the streets below.

US-led coalition warplanes flew overhead at low altitude while columns of smoke rose over the city.

The militants struck back against special forces in Qadisiya a day earlier, Major General Sami al-Aridi said. Two dozen men wearing suicide vests charged the front lines, setting off a three-hour battle that killed 20 militants and severely wounded a special forces soldier.

Iraqi armed forces do not release official casualty figures, but field medics have noted dozens of killed and wounded since the operation to liberate the city began on October 17.

Since last week's quick advance into Mosul proper, Iraqi forces have struggled to hold territory under heavy IS counter-attacks.

At a news conference outside Mosul, Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for US-led forces supporting the operation, said air strikes had so far destroyed 59 suicide car bombs and more than 80 tunnels.

"We will continue to strike the enemy for as long as it takes for the Iraqi flag to be raised over Mosul and every other corner of this country," he said, adding that the coalition had conducted more than 4,000 strikes with air power and artillery since the campaign began.

The United Nations said smoke from oil wells and a chemical plant torched by IS near Mosul has forced more than 1,500 people to seek medical treatment for respiratory problems.

The group's humanitarian affairs co-ordination office said the fires have emitted toxic smoke for 25 to 60 days, affecting 14 towns. It said the mid and long-term effects on people's health, the environment, agriculture and livelihoods could be serious.

In late October, IS shelled and set fire to the al-Mishraq Sulfur Gas Factory, south of Mosul, causing the deaths of at least four people from toxic fumes, the UN has said, comparing the attack to the use of chemical weapons.

Nearby oil wells set ablaze by IS have been burning uncontrollably since June.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraqi officials said bombings in and around the city killed at least 14 people on Tuesday and wounded more than 50.

The attacks targeted outdoor markets, Shiite pilgrims and anti-IS Sunni tribal fighters, police said. Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures.

AP

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