Iraqi troops enter another IS-held neighborhood in Mosul
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) -- The Iraqi army on Tuesday pushed into another neighborhood held by the Islamic State group on the southeastern edge of Mosul, according to a military statement and Iraqi commanders on the ground.
The commander of a joint operations center that oversees the Mosul campaign, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah, said that soldiers from the 9th Division took over the hospital building in the al-Salam neighborhood.
"The hospital was a Daesh base," said Iraqi army Lt. Ahmed Abu Fadl, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
"They were treating their wounded there," he added, explaining that he hoped retaking the building would hurt the militants' ability to launch organized counterattacks.
Iraqi troops pushed past barricades made of dirt and rubble to slowly cross the main road marking the front line on the edge of al-Salam. The front had remained static for weeks as Iraqi forces slowly cleared homes and built up defenses before Tuesday's push.
IS snipers perched in the minarets of nearby mosques fired on the advancing troops and a suicide car bomb struck one of the convoys. At least two military vehicles carrying the wounded could be seen speeding back from the front.
"Starting before dawn we heard more than 20 airstrikes," said Fathii Muhammad Yousef who took cover from the clashes with his family in their home just a block from the front. For the past month Iraqi forces have clashed with IS fighters on the streets just outside Yousef's home. Four of his neighbors have been wounded by gunfire and shrapnel so far in the operation.
As the fight has ground on, Yousef's family has run out of water and is running low on food. "All we have now is well water, it's not clean enough to drink, but what else can we do?" he said, explaining the water is making some of his youngest children sick.
Clashes in Salam neighborhood continued into the evening.
Iraqi forces, backed the U.S.-led international coalition, launched a campaign in October to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city and IS's last major urban bastion in Iraq. Most gains have been made by special forces operating in the section of Mosul east of the Tigris River, while other forces are advancing on the city from other directions.
In an audio recording published online, the newly-appointed spokesman of IS, Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, urged the fighters in Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa to keep up the fight and not to retreat. In his nearly 30-minute speech, al-Muhajir called on Muslims and "Caliphate soldiers" to strike inside Turkey and against its diplomatic missions as well as launching attacks in other parts of the world.
It was not clear when the recording was produced; it was distributed by the militant group's al-Furqan media arm late Monday night. Al-Muhajir replaced Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, who was killed in an airstrike in August.
IS captured Mosul in the summer of 2014 as part of a blitz that placed nearly a third of Iraq under their control, along large swaths of neighboring Syria. Iraqi troops, federal police and allied Shiite and Sunni militias have over the past year pushed IS militants from most of the vast Sunni province of Anbar, west of Baghdad, and areas to the north and east of the Iraqi capital.
Salaheddin reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.