First Published: 2017-05-18

Soldiers come, civilians go on Mosul front
Few neighborhoods remain for Iraqi army to retake before launching final assault on IS jihadists holed up in Mosul's Old City.
Middle East Online

Families fleeing Mosul often have no idea where they will spend the night

MOSUL - The black Humvee slaloming between car bomb carcasses and mortar craters stops to let fleeing civilians cross and then resumes its tooth-loosening ride down the churned up west Mosul street.

Other vehicles follow -- they are from Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service and are heading to the front line in Rifai, one of the last areas left to retake before a final assault on jihadists holed up in the Old City.

Further down, the street is almost entirely blocked by a berm.

"Look out, it's mined. Go around the sides," the gunner shouts from his turret to a group of civilians dragging their children, lugging chequered plastic shopping bags and pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair.

As they walk past the armoured vehicle, the civilians crack a smile, flash a victory sign and thank the soldiers before walking on to join the half million other people who have fled the west side of Mosul since February.

The CTS fighters are torn between compassion and suspicion.

Islamic State group jihadists trying to escape certain death sometimes shave off their beards and attempt to blend in with fleeing civilians, whose flow never stops and and federal forces can't always control.

"Yesterday, a woman left a plastic bag in the street as she walked past. When we searched the bag later, we found Daesh (IS) clothes, a handgun and a knife," says one of the soldiers. "Maybe it wasn't a woman."

A few blocks down, CTS units are gearing up for the day's push, the "men in black" strapping themselves up for battle, unloading crates of ammunition and lining up rocket-launchers against a wall.

They don't know how many IS fighters they will face and incoming mortar fire is the only sign of enemy activity.

- Harvesting spent casings -

One unit goes first and enters a property through a hole punched in the compound wall.

Elite forces breaching enemy lines usually take the position but refrain from actually entering homes, which can be booby-trapped. They clamber along from one plot to another, retaking ground one street at a time, one house at a time.

Suddenly, there are no more holes in the walls and the forces have to abandon cover and run across the street, exposed to sniper fire.

As they wait for the green light of the group ahead of them, muffled laughter breaks out as some fighters crack nervous jokes. A ring tone goes off and a soldier fumbles for his mobile: "I'll call you back later."

As they advance through the neighbourhood, civilians who had been hunkering down waiting for their arrival emerge onto the street with their belongings, ready to leave the city.

When families start walking away from their neighbourhood, where the corpses of jihadist fighters are left to bloat in the sun, they often have no idea where they will spend the next night.

Walking the other way is a young man who says he returns to frontline areas every other day with a wheelbarrow that he fills to the rim with spent casings.

"I pick them up and sell them to scrap dealers for about 100 dinars a kilo," he says, which means he has to collect 12 times that amount of casings to make a dollar.

"I live about five kilometres (three miles) from here. I come to the front line to earn a living," he says.

A little girl runs across and empties a bag of casings she collected herself in his wheelbarrow.

Next to her, an older woman, bent down to join the harvest of casings carpeting the street, sighs: "I'm so ashamed of doing this."

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire

Syria regime shells last jihadist pockets in Damascus

After the war is won, ‘we shall not return’ to Mosul

Saudi Arabia to host cinema test screening with 'Black Panther'

Trump voices support for US pastor jailed in Turkey

Rouhani says Iran will make or buy any weapons it needs

US fears ceding influence to Russia, Iran in Syria

Nationalist Erdogan ally calls for snap Turkey elections

Saudi renews offer to deploy troops to Syria

Kaveh Madani, Iran’s expat eco-warrior who was on too many fronts