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Dozens of Islamic State militants in suicide vests launch major Mosul counterattack

Dozens of Islamic State militants in suicide vests launch major Mosul counterattack

Dozens of Islamic State militants wearing suicide vests penetrated Iraqi police lines in Mosul on Wednesday, police officers said, retaking ground in a large-scale counterattack and sending terrified residents fleeing.

Starting at around 3 a.m. the militants launched seven car bombs at the front lines south of the Old City, their last remaining foothold, said a federal police colonel, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation. Simultaneously, 25 fighters wearing suicide vests attacked them from behind their lines. Another police commander put the number of suicide attackers at 50.

The militants had snuck down the Tigris River and attacked with the assistance of “sleeper cells” which provided vehicles for them, the police colonel said.

“They attacked our forces from behind while they were fighting against the car bombs,” he said, adding that the militants were lashing out in their “dying breath”.

After eight months of battle, Islamic State fighters have been penned into the narrow streets and alleyways of Mosul’s historic city center as well as a small area around a hospital just to the north.

Iraqi and U.S. military officials estimate that up to 1,000 fighters may remain in the area of just over a square mile. Penned in, they have little choice but to fight to the death.

The commander said that the militants took over areas of the Dawasa and Dendan neighborhoods, setting light to houses to protect themselves from airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition. However, police forces had managed to retake most of those areas by midmorning, while suffering casualties, he said, without giving a figure.

In a statement circulated online, the Islamic State claimed to have killed 40 in the attack, including a colonel, and destroyed eight vehicles. The Associated Press said 11 police officers and four civilians had died.

Saeed Hassan, 41, said his family were up eating a pre-dawn meal before their daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in their home in Dendan when they heard a large explosion.

The explosions grew louder and closer and realizing the militants had entered the neighborhood the family hid under the stairs. Hassan’s house is located next to a police base, and he said officers were fighting from his doorstep, and the roof of the house next door.

After an hour of clashes, the militants reached his local mosque, and police forces decided to retreat. Hassan had been providing food for their forces, and feared he would be killed by the militants if he stayed.

“When I heard them yelling, ‘Let’s retreat.’ I told them, ‘I’m going to start my car and go with you,’” he said. “It was a very scary scene outside — dark and fire around us.”

He followed the police Humvees as they withdrew to the airport, on the edge of the city.

He said seeing them rush to their vehicles and withdraw gave him “flashbacks” to 2014, when security forces abandoned the city to Islamic State militants with little fight. He said police forces are yet to return to his street according to neighbors who are still hiding in their houses don’t know if the militants have withdrawn or not. He said he won’t return home until Islamic State has been expelled from all of western Mosul.

Brig. Gen. Faris Radhi, director of the operation room at the federal police headquarters south of Mosul, said that the attack involved 50 suicide bombers but denied that they had lost any ground. “Clashes are ongoing,” he said. Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition are “hunting them one-by-one,” he said. “The enemy has used the last card in this attack, which means this is the best they can do.”

In an official statement Lt. Gen. Raed Shaker Jawdat played down the incident. He described it as a “tactical operation” by police forces aimed at drawing militants out of the Old City and into the secured area of Dendan — where families have returned to their homes — to target them with shelling and snipers.

Source: Washington Post