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Iraqi Forces Target Mosul Airport

A member of the Iraqi federal police goes to battle against IS in Mosul on Feb. 18. A member of the Iraqi federal police goes to battle against IS in Mosul on Feb. 18.

Iraqi government forces are targeting Mosul airport as they launch a long-awaited offensive to retake the western part of the city, the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group’s last major stronghold in the country.

Advancing from several directions, the US-backed forces captured several villages on Sunday as they moved toward Mosul airport just south of the city, France24 reported.

Speaking on state TV, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said government forces were moving to “liberate the people of Mosul from [IS group] oppression and terrorism forever”.

The militant group, which was driven out of east Mosul last month, has put up stiff resistance to defend the city, where its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Experts warned that the battle to free western Mosul could prove even tougher than the grueling four-month fight to liberate the east of the city.

The half of the city west of the Tigris River has older, narrower streets and is still heavily populated.

“West Mosul had the potential certainly of being more difficult, with house-to-house fighting on a larger and bloodier scale,” said Patrick Skinner from the Soufan Group intelligence consultancy.

The government began the offensive to retake Mosul on October 17, throwing tens of thousands of men into the operation with air and ground support from a coalition that includes the US and France.

Civilians Trapped

United Nations officials have voiced concern about the welfare of the estimated 650,000 civilians still trapped in the city.

Leaflets warning residents of the imminent offensive were dropped over western neighborhoods ahead of the offensive.

“We are racing against the clock to prepare emergency sites south of Mosul to receive displaced families,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said in a statement.

Save the Children urged all parties to protect the estimated 350,000 children currently trapped in west Mosul. 

The militants overran Mosul and swathes of other territory north and west of Baghdad in 2014, routing security forces ill-prepared to face the assault.

Abadi said at the beginning of the year that three more months were needed to rid the country of the IS group.

The recapture of Mosul would effectively end the militant outfit’s days as a land-holding force in Iraq, with only a pocket around the town of Hawijah and small towns near the Syria border still under its control.

An alliance of Arab and Kurdish forces also backed by the coalition is currently advancing on Raqqa in Syria, the only other major hub the terrorists still hold in their now crumbling “caliphate”.

 

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