Desperate Iraqis demand food from soldiers retaking Mosul

A soldier from the Iraqi Special Operations Forces 2nd division wipes a comrade's forehead after removing shrapnel from his upper body at an outdoor field clinic in the Samah neighbourhood of Mosul on November 15, 2016.  / AFP / Odd ANDERSEN
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MOSUL // Hundreds of Iraqi civilians spilled into the streets to demand food on Tuesday in areas of eastern Mosul recently retaken from ISIL.

About 700 residents gathered in three areas of the city’s Zahra and Qadisiya neighbourhoods in search of a meal. Qadisiya was the scene of a fierce ISIL counterattack a day earlier, said Major Salam Al Obeidi.

“This is a problem for us because the food we have is not enough for them and we’re waiting for more food to be sent from the government,” Major Al Obeidi said. “Now the Iraqi soldier is giving his food to the civilians.”

Iraq launched a major offensive last month to drive ISIL out of the city, the country’s second largest, which is still home to more than 1 million civilians.

Special forces have captured a foothold in the city's east, and have been advancing slowly over the past week to avoid casualties and civilian deaths as ISIL fighters emerge to attack from the dense, urban landscape, often with armor-plated suicide car bombs.

Near the north-eastern Zahra district, explosions and gunfire erupted on Tuesday as the special forces advanced. ISIL fired mortars on the troops from apartment windows, wounding at least seven civilians when the shells landed in the streets below.

US-led coalition warplanes flew overhead at low altitude while columns of smoke rose over the city.

The militants struck back against special forces in Qadisiya a day earlier, Major General Sami Al Aridi said. Two dozen men wearing suicide vests charged the front lines, setting off a three-hour battle that killed 20 militants and severely wounded a special forces soldier.

Field medics say dozens have been killed and wounded since the operation to liberate the city began on October 17.

Since last week’s quick advance into Mosul proper, Iraqi forces have struggled to hold territory under heavy ISIL counterattacks.

At a news conference outside Mosul, Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led forces supporting the operation, said airstrikes had so far destroyed 59 suicide car bombs and over 80 tunnels.

“We will continue to strike the enemy for as long as it takes for the Iraqi flag to be raised over Mosul and every other corner of this country,” he said, adding that the coalition had conducted more than 4,000 strikes with air power and artillery since the campaign began.

The United Nations said smoke from oil wells and a chemical plant torched by ISIL near Mosul has forced more than 1,500 people to seek medical treatment for respiratory problems.

The group’s humanitarian affairs coordination office said the fires have emitted toxic smoke for 25 to 60 days, affecting 14 towns. It said the mid- and long-term effects on people’s health, the environment, agriculture and livelihoods could be serious.

In late October, ISIL shelled and set fire to the Al Mishraq Sulfur Gas Factory south of Mosul, causing the deaths of at least four people from toxic fumes, the UN has said, comparing the attack to the use of chemical weapons.

Nearby oil wells set ablaze by ISIl have been burning since June.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraqi officials said bombings in and around the city killed at least 14 people on Tuesday and wounded more than 50.

The attacks targeted outdoor markets, Shiite pilgrims and anti-ISIL Sunni tribal fighters, police said.

*Associated Press