March 1 was another day of consolidation and hard fighting in southern Mosul. An apartment complex in Mamun was freed by the Golden Division after the district was declared liberated on February 23 and 26. That same unit was still trying to secure Wadi Hajar, Mansour and Shuhada. Wadi Hajar was unofficially said to be cleared yesterday. The Iraqi engineers completed the pontoon bridge across the Tigris in southern Mosul. The Islamic State also carried out a surprise attack on Hawi al-Josaq. Its fighters had shaved their beards and were dressed in army uniforms catching the Iraqi forces (ISF) by surprise. The Iraqi forces (ISF) have only entered the southern tip of the city, but as the reports show the districts they are in remain hotly contested.
Civilians were suffering the consequences of the renewed campaign. There were 50 casualties from ISF shelling in the Old City. Air strikes were blamed for another 84 dead and 14 wounded. IS mortar and sniper fire wounded 4 including a journalist for Agence France Presse. West Mosul is known for its densely populated neighborhoods and tight streets. That is making it extremely difficult to avoid collateral damage for the Iraqis and their coalition allies. The Islamic State on other hand, have used people as human shields and intentionally targeted civilians.
IS is also still at work at undermining security in east Mosul. A suicide bomber was arrested in the Baladiyat neighborhood. There were IS attacks upon two areas and mortar fire on a third leaving two dead and three injured. The eastern section of the city is hardly being covered anymore, but there are still IS cells operating there and daily incidents. That has slowed down the pace of returns there.
To the southwest the army and Hashd are pushing on the city as well. The 9th Division took Badush Prison, an infamous institution, which was the site of numerous executions by the Islamic State. The insurgents were accused of firing poison gas shells at the Iraqi forces in the area. There have been sporadic reports of chemical weapons being used by IS. The joint forces seized a road from Tal Afar to Mosul and were one mile away from reaching the city itself. For several weeks now the Iraqis claim they have cut off Mosul yet there always seems to be another route that has yet to be taken, so this announcement that the city has been cut off needs to be taken with a grain of salt. At the same time, the army and Hashd advance is important because it would open a third front in Mosul and stretch out the defenders even more. Currently the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division are pushing up the bank of the Tigris in the southeast. The Golden Division are attacking in the center of south Mosul. The army and Al-Abbas Division would be entering in the southwest.
Coalition advisers continued to be helping out with the Mosul operation. A U.S. Special Forces unit was filmed travelling into west Mosul. French forces arrived at the Mosul operations command. British Special Air Services are also know to be operating in the area as well. Coalition advisers have been active throughout the Mosul campaign. Now under new rules they are right at the front to help out the Iraqis.
The new fighting and the dire conditions within west Mosul are driving out a huge number of people. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs counted around 28,400 people having left the west side of the city by March 1. The outflow just started a few days ago as there were just 8,814 people registered on February 27. That jumped to 21,804 the next day. Most of these people are being taken to camps in Hamam al-Alil and Qayara south of Mosul. The heavy combat, the densely populated neighborhoods and the severe lack of services and supplies are all combining to lead to this exodus out of the city. It is at a much higher rate than was seen when east Mosul was taken.
Displaced From West Mosul
As usual when people leave an IS controlled area they are screened by the security services. The first step is to isolate the men and boys from their families for questioning and to have their names run through wanted lists. Informers are often present pointing out people. Agence France Presse and Reuters were the latest to write about this process. There have been many concerns and complaints about the arbitrariness of this system. At the same time the ISF are dealing with a huge amount of people.
The Wall Street Journal returned to east Mosul to interview people there. One man said that his local government was working again, but they needed more time to be effective. Another complained about having no water and electricity. Some warned that there were still IS fighters amongst the population. Another problem was that checkpoints along the route from Irbil to Mosul were holding up supplies. One truck driver said the trip between the two cities used to take three hours, but now it could last up to 10. The delay is driving up prices for an already inflated market.
Finally, Iraqi propaganda was at it again. This time there was a story that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave a speech calling on his men to flee and hide in the mountains or blow themselves up if they were surrounded. This speech was allegedly handed out to IS fighters in Mosul. Since October Iraqi military and civilian officials have been pushing the line that the Islamic State is on its last legs, that its men are fleeing Mosul, and that it is defeated. The five months of fighting for Mosul would show that that there is a lot of tough combat ahead before the organization is expelled from the city.
AIN, “Daesh bombarding the outskirts of Badush with poison gas,” 3/1/17
Airwars, "March 1st 2017: Farouk neighborhood, Right side of Mosul, Nineveh province, Iraq"
- "March 1st 2017: Shaaren Market, Right side of Mosul, Nineveh province, Iraq"
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