IS steps up counter-attacks as Mosul offensive enters second week
The Islamic State (IS) group expanded its attacks on Monday against Iraqi army and Kurdish forces to relieve pressure on its militants confronting an offensive on Mosul, its last major urban stronghold in the country.
About 80 IS-held villages and towns have been retaken in the first week of the offensive, bringing the Iraqi and Kurdish forces closer to the edge of the city itself – where the battle will be hardest fought.
The Mosul campaign, which aims to crush the Iraqi half of IS’ declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, may be the biggest battle yet in the 13 years of turmoil triggered by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and could require a massive humanitarian relief operation.
Some 1.5 million residents remain in the city and worst-case forecasts see up to a million being uprooted, according to the United Nations (UN). UN aid agencies said the fighting has so far forced around 6,000 to flee their homes. In a series of counter-attacks on far-flung targets across Iraq since Friday, IS fighters have hit Kirkuk, the north’s main oil city, the town of Rutba that controls the road from Baghdad to Jordan and Syria and Sinjar, a region west of Mosul inhabited by the persecuted Yazidi minority.
Yazidi provincial chief Mahma Xelil said the Sinjar attack was the most violent in the area in the last year. He said at least 15 militants were killed in the two-hour battle and a number of their vehicles were destroyed, while the peshmerga suffered two wounded.
The IS said two peshmerga vehicles were destroyed and all those on board were killed.
The IS committed some of its worst atrocities in Sinjar when it swept through the Yazidi region two years ago, killing men, kidnapping children and enslaving women. Kurdish fighters took back the region a year ago.
The Iraqi force attacking Mosul is 30,000-strong, joined by US special forces and under American, French and British air cover.