Battle for Mosul: Peshmerga Seizes Bashiqa from ISIL

President of the Iraqi Kurdish Region Masoud Barzani says Kurdish soldiers had succeeded in recapturing Bashiqa.

Kurdish Peshmerga have taken the town of Bashiqa near Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as coalition forces pressed their offensive against the armed group’s last urban stronghold in Iraq.

A US official said Masoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish Region, had informed US Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the Kurds had succeeded in recapturing Bashiqa from ISIL.

Kurdish fighters told reporters at the scene they had entered Bashiqa, but journalists were not being allowed into the town.

Kurdish forces announced their new push on Bashiqa at dawn on Sunday.

The successful advance took place as US Defense Secretary Ash Carter was in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan to support the unprecedented offensive, which a US-led coalition is backing with air and ground support.

On a trip to Iraq to review the operation, Carter met Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Saturday and Kurdish leader Massud Barzani on Sunday.

The United States leads a 60-nation coalition – which also includes Britain and France – that has provided support in the form of thousands of air strikes, training for Iraqi forces and advisers on the ground.

Tens of thousands of fighters, including Iraqi federal troops and Kurdish Peshmerga, are taking part in the assault.

Engaged on the northern and eastern fronts, the Peshmerga are expected to stop along a line at an average of 20 kilometres from the boundaries of the city proper.

“They are pretty much there,” a US military official said on Saturday, adding that the lines “will be solidified in the next day or two.”

Fears grow for citizens as Iraqi forces advance on Mosul

Elite federal forces are also fighting to retake control of he mainly Christian district of Hamdiniya which lies to the South East of Mosul.

The province, considered to be the gateway to Mosul was a densely populated area housing more than 60 000 people befor the ISIL takeover, has been under ISIL control since 2014.

“The Iraqi troops are now in Hamandiya, fighting their way towards the city center,” Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the outskirts of Hamdiniya, said.

“But it is proving to be a very difficult fight because ISIL still have snipers in the area.And they are still using suicide car bombs.”

Attacks in other areas

The operation to recapture Mosul started last Monday, and ISIL (also known as ISIS) hit back on Friday with a surprise assault on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk and two days later security forces were still tracking down fighters involved in the attack.

The dozens of attackers, including several suicide bombers, failed to seize control of key government buildings but sowed chaos in Kirkuk, a large oil-rich and ethnically mixed city.

At least 51 ISIL fighters had been killed, including three more on Sunday, local security officials said.

Sporadic clashes continued, a senior security official said, with forces besieging ISIL gunmen in Kirkuk’s Nidaa neighbourhood.

At least 46 people, most of them members of the security forces, were killed in the raid and ensuing clashes.

ISIL fighters also attacked Rutba, a remote town near the Jordanian border in the western province of Anbar, with five suicide car bombs, the area’s top army commander said on Sunday.

The attackers briefly seized the mayor’s office but security forces quickly regained the upper hand, he said.

“I think ISIL was trying to give a message with these attacks,” said Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Erbil.

“They are trying to say even though they are being pushed in Mosul, they still have the capacity to carry out these kinds of attacks elsewhere.”

And they are trying to split the Iraqi forces, so they can weaken the operation in Mosul.”

The offensive on Mosul is expected to become the biggest battle fought in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 and it could require a massive humanitarian relief operation.

Some 1.5 million residents remain in the city and worst-case scenario forecasts see up to a million being uprooted, according to the United Nations. UN aid agencies said the fighting has so far forced about 6,000 to flee their homes.


Reprinted with permission from Al Jazeera