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Jihadists fight back for Mosul

December 8, 20169:10am

British photojournalist John Cantlie has appeared in a new propaganda video released by IS overnight. Picture: Amaq News Agency via AP

Staff writers, APNews Corp Australia Network

ISLAMIC State group counter-attacks in southeastern Mosul inflicted heavy losses on Iraqi forces after a new push deep into the city this week.

Despite the damaging counter-attacks, the fresh Iraqi push appears to have relieved pressure on Iraq’s special forces who have been largely leading the fight inside the city on the eastern front.

Overnight, the special forces announced new gains.

Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah, said in a statement that troops had “fully liberated” the al-Elam (Ilam) neighbourhood and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings.

But he conceded losses had been heavy.

Backed by the US-led international coalition, Iraqi government troops and paramilitary forces launched the campaign in October to dislodge IS from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last major IS urban bastion in the country. Progress on the ground in Mosul has been slowed by heavily armoured IS car bombs, snipers and networks of tunnels that allow the fighters to move without being seen by US-led coalition aircraft.

Captive British photojournalist John Cantlie in what appeared to be central Mosul, Iraq, from a new propaganda video released overnight. Picture: Islamic State's Amaq News Agency via AP

Captive British photojournalist John Cantlie in what appeared to be central Mosul, Iraq, from a new propaganda video released overnight. Picture: Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency via APSource:AP

CANTLIE IN NEW VIDEO

The Islamic State group’s Amaq news agency has released a new propaganda video showing captive British photojournalist John Cantlie in what appeared to be downtown Mosul.

A haggard looking Cantlie is seen detailing the US-led coalition’s destruction of four of Mosul’s five main bridges in a series of air strikes last month that he describes as inflicting harm of the city’s civilian population.

Iraq’s government had requested coalition aircraft destroy the bridges in a bid to slow the movement of IS armoured improvised explosive vehicles. Some 182 suicide attacks have been made against its forces in the past seven weeks.

Cantlie is seen standing in front of the sole remaining bridge with civilians streaming across it.

“The treacherous Crusader Coalition bombarded the Muthanna Bridge under which the neighbourhood’s water pipes run, which are behind us,” an IS commander says while standing alongside Cantlie.

It also slows the flow of jihadist reinforcements and supplies, US commanders say.

IS has long used Cantlie for propaganda purposes, featuring him in videos from Mosul as well as the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Kobani, likely speaking under duress.

As Mosul’s bridges were destroyed last month, this is the first confirmation that Cantlie is alive since he appeared in an IS video in July.

The nine-minute production also blames air strikes for a cut in the city’s electricity and water supplies.

An Iraqi soldier from the 9th Infantry Division holds his machine gun while heading to the frontline in Shyma district in Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday. Picture: AP

An Iraqi soldier from the 9th Infantry Division holds his machine gun while heading to the frontline in Shyma district in Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday. Picture: APSource:AP

COSTLY COUNTER-ATTACKS

The Iraqi Army said earlier this week that they retook the al-Salam hospital and pushed the front line back more than two kilometres, but Iraqi forces have repeatedly quickly advanced into Mosul only to be pushed back by counter-attacks launched at night.

Iraqi troops inside the hospital are now cut-off.

“Daesh waited until night to attack the troops,” Iraqi Army Sgt. Maj. Hakim Saranbii told The Associated Press. He added that the attacks “inflicted heavy losses,” without giving specific casualty figures or further details.

The Iraqi army’s 9th Armoured Division said it retook the Al-Salam hospital, the farthest it had penetrated in eastern Mosul, but it was met with fierce resistance from the jihadists and fighting is ongoing.

See an updated map of campaign progress in #MosulOps up to Dec 5th via @TheStudyofWar. See a full size map here: https://t.co/uxhKKr66xz pic.twitter.com/Z8xP2evawH

— The Global Coalition (@coalition) December 7, 2016

“We advanced in Al-Salam district but the situation is difficult, there is heavy fighting,” Brigadier General Shaker Kadhem told AFP.

“We took control of Al-Salam hospital, which was a command centre for Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The five-storey building towers above the neighbourhood and the jihadists had been using the upper floors and roof as sniper positions for some time, Mosul residents said.

“The 9th Division’s situation is difficult and they have called for support,” an officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The IS counter-attack caused Iraqi troops at the Al-Salam hospital to become surrounded.

But the Iraq army’s elite Counter Terrorism unit was ordered to assist. “Our mission was to offer support to the 9th Division forces surrounded in the hospital, our units accomplished this mission and opened a passage,” the officer said.

A soldier from the Mosul Brigade of the Iraqi Special Operations Force 2 (ISOF 2) tries to spot enemy positions held by jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group. Picture: AFP

A soldier from the Mosul Brigade of the Iraqi Special Operations Force 2 (ISOF 2) tries to spot enemy positions held by jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

MOSUL PROGRESS SLOWS

Since starting the offensive on October 17 to oust the Islamic State group from its last Iraqi stronghold, pro-government forces say they have recaptured almost half of eastern Mosul and are edging towards the Tigris river that divides the city in two.

The southern front has stopped moving north within striking distance of Mosul airport, while the northern front has also made little progress in recent days.

The Iraqi government has not publicised the casualty figures for government troops and paramilitary forces fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq. Last week, the U.N. said in a report that nearly 2000 members of the Iraqi forces were killed last month, but after coming under fire from the media arm of the Iraqi military, it announced it would discontinue publishing casualty figures for Iraq’s security forces.

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