Thousands of bloodied civilians flee Mosul in panic as fighting intensifies

Thousands of bloodied civilians flee Mosul in panic as fighting intensifies

Among the forces deployed south and west of the city are the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), an umbrella for paramilitaries dominated by Tehran-backed militias.

The troops managed to free a number of strategic positions on the southern and eastern outskirts of Mosul from Daesh, in particular an important strategic quarter of Kadisiye was liberated.

Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, a leader of the unit, said that their fighters would now focus on cutting the road link between Mosul and Tel Afar - a predominantly Sunni Turkmen town, the BBC reported. Other forces, including the Kurdish peshmerga and volunteer Sunni militiamen, are advancing on the city from different directions, and the USA -led coalition is providing airstrikes and other support.

Iraqi forces are now driving out IS militants from the northern city of Mosul.

Most gains in the campaign so far have been made by the special forces operating east of the Tigris River.

"Humanitarian needs are severe among displaced families in and out of camps, vulnerable residents of retaken communities, and people fleeing the intense fighting in Mosul city", the United Nations said.

"We have cut off Tal Afar from Mosul and we cut off Mosul from Syria", Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, told the AP.

The town of Tal Afar, which lies about 50 kilometres west of Mosul, is still under the control of the jihadists. Kurdish Peshmerga forces have led the effort from the north and south before connecting with the Iranian-backed militias in the west, according to the AFP.

Once Iraq's second largest city in terms of population, Mosul was overrun by the terrorist group - along with large parts of the country's northern and western regions - in mid-2014.

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, believed to have withdrawn to a remote area near the Syrian border, has told his fighters there can be no retreat. The Iraqi military does not release official casualty figures, but field medics say dozens of troops have been killed and wounded since the Mosul operation began last month.

Islamic State fighters in Mosul are dug in among more than a million civilians as a tactic to hamper air strikes. IHS Markit, a London-based intelligence analysis firm, says the extremists later used the city as a center for the production of chemical weapons.

"We support each other in the past two years, but everyone is living in fear for such a long time and that's why they scramble for food even when they still have certain storage", said 26-year-old college student Jassim.

It was the second airstrike to target a Mosul bridge this week and the fourth since shortly before the October 17 start of the Iraqi government's campaign to retake the city from IS.

Retired Iraqi army officer and military analyst Abdul Karim Khalaf says there is also extensive use of auto bombs and human shields, further delaying the advance of Iraqi forces.

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