Iraqis Build Floating Bridge to Reclaim Mosul

Iraqi forces pushed deeper into western Mosul on Saturday and Sunday, advancing in several populated southern districts after punching through the defenses of the last major IS urban stronghold in Iraq
Iraqi forces advance toward Dindan neighborhood in West Mosul, Iraq, on Feb. 25.Iraqi forces advance toward Dindan neighborhood in West Mosul, Iraq, on Feb. 25.

Iraqi forces battled militants in west Mosul on Sunday, aiming to build a floating bridge across the Tigris to establish an important supply route linked to the recaptured east bank.

A week into a major push on the western side of the city, where an estimated 2,000 holdout militants and 750,000 civilians are trapped, government forces made steady progress, AFP reported.

But after relatively easy gains on the city’s outskirts, they encountered increasingly stiff resistance from the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group defending its emblematic stronghold.

“We had an important operation this morning to move towards the bridge,” Colonel Falah al-Wabdan of the interior ministry’s Rapid Response units that have spearheaded the breach into west Mosul told AFP in the Jawsaq neighborhood.

“We have moved past a large berm constructed by IS with tunnels underneath,” he said, adding that the area was heavily mined and his forces killed 44 terrorists on Sunday alone.

Wabdan was referring to what is known as “the fourth bridge”, the southernmost of five bridges—all of which are damaged and unusable—across the Tigris River that divides the northern Iraqi city.

Government forces retook the east bank from IS a month ago, completing a key phase in an offensive on Mosul that began on October 17 and has involved tens of thousands of fighters.

Wabdan said securing the bank area near the fourth bridge would allow engineering units to extend a ribbon bridge to the other side and further pile pressure on the militants.

  Key Supply Line

“It is very important because if we take it, engineering units ... will be able to throw a bridge across from the left bank so we can move supplies and ammunition from the battlefield,” he said.

Bridging operations under fire are complex and perilous, but Iraqi forces have been trained by the US military and successfully used that strategy before in the fight against IS.

A ribbon bridge assembled over Euphrates River was considered a turning point in the battle that eventually saw Iraqi forces retake the western stronghold of Ramadi from the terrorists a year ago.

Rapid Response was confident it could reach the bridge on Sunday but IS was fighting back with suicide car bombs, roadside bombs, snipers and weaponized drones.

  Eating Bird Feed

The western side of the city is a little smaller than the east but more densely populated and home to some areas considered traditional militant strongholds.

It includes the Old City, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance and proclaimed a “caliphate” in July 2014, and several of Mosul’s key landmarks.

Around three quarters of a million people are virtually besieged there, in some cases used as human shields by the IS fighters preparing to defend their last major bastion in the country.

“With the battle to retake western Mosul now in its second week, we are extremely concerned about the 800,000 or so still trapped in some of the most dire conditions,” Karl Schembri, spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AFP.

Food supplies have dwindled as fast as costs have soared, leaving many on barely a meal a day.

“We’re hearing reports of people eating bird feed inside western Mosul, as they cannot afford the skyrocketing prices,” Schembri said.

Residents and medical workers say that the combined effect of malnutrition and the shortage of drugs is starting to kill the weakest.

The United Nations has planned for an exodus of at least 250,000 people from west Mosul, but in the absence of humanitarian corridors only a few hundred have been able to flee so far.

Around 160,000 are currently displaced as a result of the first phase of the Mosul operation. Iraq has a population of more than three million people who have been displaced by the IS conflict.

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