Reuters – Iraqi special forces inched their way through districts of east Mosul on Sunday, clearing pockets of Islamic State militants they said were sheltering among civilians and targeting soldiers with waves of car bombs in the world’s “toughest urban warfare”.
Troops from the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) broke into Mosul on Monday and have taken seven eastern districts, their first foothold in the Islamic State stronghold since the army retreated in disarray from northern Iraq two years ago.
The three-week Mosul campaign has brought together soldiers, security forces, Shi’ite militias and Kurdish fighters, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, to crush the Sunni jihadists’s rule in the largest city they have controlled in Iraq and Syria.
Across the border, U.S.-backed Syrian fighters announced on Sunday the start of their own campaign to recapture Islamic State’s Syrian bastion of Raqqa.
Simultaneous offensives on Raqqa and Mosul could bring to an end the self-styled caliphate declared by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque in 2014.
Baghdadi, however, has told his followers there can be no retreat in a “total war” with their enemies, and the militants in Mosul have been waging a fierce and brutal defense.
They have deployed waves of suicide car bombs, as well as mortar attacks, roadside bombs and sniper fire against the advancing troops, and officers say they have also left behind fighters among residents of districts taken over by the army.
“That’s why we are carrying out the toughest urban warfare that any force in the world could undertake,” CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numani said.
“Sometimes they climb to the rooftops of houses where civilians are still living and they hold them hostage and open fire on our forces, because they know we will not use air strikes against targets that have civilians.”
Militants also targeted the troops with car bombs, sometimes waving white flags as they approached, he said.