Weather stalls Iraqi troops' advance in Mosul but Islamic State attacks continue
Poor weather has stalled an advance by Iraqi special forces into the northern city of Mosul, but they still faced attacks by Islamic State militants that killed seven civilians and two soldiers.
The civilians were killed and 35 others were wounded when militants fired mortar rounds on government-controlled areas of eastern Mosul, said army medic Bashir Jabar, who is in charge of a field clinic run by the special forces.
One soldier was killed and three wounded when a car packed with explosives sped from its hiding spot in a school complex in the eastern Tahrir neighbourhood, rammed Iraqi troops' position and exploded into a ball of fire, according to officers.
Another soldier was killed by a sniper in the Bakir neighbourhood.
Clouds over Iraq's second-largest city obscured the visibility of drones and warplanes, but troops were using the pause to secure areas they had seized, set up checkpoints and sweep for explosives, said Brigadier General Haider Fadhil.
The US coalition providing air cover and reconnaissance for the advancing forces has been a key element in the success of the month-old Mosul battle, and fighting stalls when the air power cannot be used.
Thursday's attacks came as civilians were fleeing to camps for displaced families or ventured into the streets for food from troops and aid agencies, Mr Jabar added. Two children were among the civilians killed, he said.
Residents of the Samah neighbourhood lined up for food and other aid from an Iraqi Red Crescent truck as special forces protected them and helped organise the distribution. Families had to show official papers to receive the aid.
Since the long-awaited Mosul operation began on October 17, troops have only advanced into a few eastern districts. The troops have faced fierce resistance from snipers, mortar fire and suicide bombers driving armour-plated vehicles packed with explosives.
After swift initial advances into the outskirts, the offensive has slowed in more densely populated areas, where Iraqi troops cannot rely as much on air strikes and shelling because of the risk to civilians, who have been told to stay in their homes.
Mosul is the last major holdout for the militants in Iraq. Driving them out would deal a severe blow to the Islamic State's self-styled caliphate stretching into Syria.
On the sidelines of a climate conference in Morocco, Iraqi officials said they are confident of victory.
President Fuad Masum said IS will be "wiped out" in Mosul, but did not say exactly when that would happen.
"Specifying a timeline is difficult because there are always surprises in wars," he said. "I think that even if it takes another month or two, in the end, Isis will be wiped out militarily."