Iraq resumes anti-IS offensive in Mosul after 2-week lull

Baghdad, Dec 29 (IANS) Iraqi troops backed by US-led airstrikes pushed deeper into besieged Mosul on Thursday in a multi-pronged assault after a two-week lull in a bid to retake the Islamic State-held city.

A number of militants were killed after the elite forces declared the start of a second phase of operations to clear the eastern section of Mosul from the group, a police official was quoted as saying by Iraqi News.

The militants were trying to pass from the western region to the east using Al Nasr district bridge, according to Federal Police commander, Lt. Gen. Raed Shaker Jawdat, who said that artillery forces bombed an IS gathering and killed five militants at Jadidat al-Mufti neighbourhood.

Stiff resistance by the militants, civilians trapped inside their houses and bad weather have slowed advances in the more than two-month-old offensive to recapture Iraq’s second largest city, the group’s last urban bastion in the country.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in statements on Tuesday that defeating the IS needs three extra months. He had previously hoped the battle would wrap up before the end of 2016.

His comments were more optimistic than US coalition commanders who envision victory within two years.

Iraqi generals have said they now control a quarter of Mosul, but the extremist group still bombs and launches suicide attacks on liberated areas.

The IS remains in control of some areas of the western section, which is adjacent to its strongholds in Syria.

The battles for Mosul have forced 137,000 people to leave their homes for refugee camps, according to the latest count by the Ministry of Migration and Displacement.

The IS captured Mosul in the summer of 2014, when it swept across much of northern and central Iraq, and the group’s leader declared the establishment of its caliphate from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

The city is still home to around a million people, according to the UN.