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Iraqi forces resume bid to recapture Mosul's Old City

Displaced Iraqi children, who fled their homes in the Old City in western Mosul due to the ongoing fighting between government forces and Islamic State (IS) group fighters, are seen looking towards a security forces member. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP Arbil, Iraq Mar 27, 2017, 02.14 PM (IST)

Iraqi forces have resumed their bid to reclaim Mosul's Old City from jihadists, even as the fight against Islamic State has been dwarfed by reports of scores of civilians dying due to air strikes.

The Iraqi forces had launched a massive operation to reclaim Mosul last month, and so far have retaken a series of neighbourhoods.

But their bid to recapture the Old City has been fraught with a cluster of problems, most notably the labyrinthine nature of the town.

The Old City -- a warren of narrow streets and closely-spaced buildings in which the UN said 400,000 people still reside -- poses unique challenges in terms of the difficulty of advancing as well as the danger to civilians.

"Federal Police and Rapid Response Division units began to advance today on the southwestern axis of the Old City," Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the federal police, said in a statement.

One of the main objectives for the troops is to target Faruq Street, which is close to the Al-Nuri mosque -- the place where IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance after seizing Mosul in 2014. 

Heavy toll on civilians 

Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for Iraq's Joint Operations Command, said that interior ministry units have deployed snipers to target IS jihadists using civilians as human shields.

However, Iraqi forces have also frequently fired mortar rounds and unguided rockets during the battle for Mosul -- weapons that pose a much greater risk to residents of areas where fighting is taking place.

The battle has already taken a heavy toll on civilians, pushing more than 200,000 to flee in addition to others who have been killed or wounded in the fighting.

An AFP photographer saw civil defence personnel and volunteers digging through the remains of houses to recover the dead in Mosul al-Jadida on Sunday.

The remains of at least 12 people -- among them women and children -- were placed in blue plastic body bags.

Rasool said that the defence ministry has opened an investigation into the reports that strikes killed civilians in west Mosul.

The US-led coalition against IS has indicated that it may have been responsible for at least some of the civilian deaths.

"An initial review of strike data... indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi security forces, the coalition struck (IS) fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties," it said in a statement on Saturday.

But that only addresses one day, while Iraqi officials referred to strikes carried out over several days.

On Sunday, US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel called recent civilian deaths in Mosul a "terrible tragedy".

"We are investigating the incident to determine exactly what happened and will continue to take extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians," he said in a statement.

The west has been vociferous about Russian air strikes on Aleppo claiming that Russia was committing war crimes. But a US airstrike in Mosul may have killed at least 200 people (WION)

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(WION with innputs from AFP)

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