News / Middle East

    Iraqi Army Meets Stiff IS Resistance in Mosul Offensive

    Vehicle-based rocket launching system positioned just behind combined Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga frontline at Makhmour, March 24, 2016. (S. Behn / VOA)
    Vehicle-based rocket launching system positioned just behind combined Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga frontline at Makhmour, March 24, 2016. (S. Behn / VOA)

    Iraqi forces bolstered by coalition airstrikes have met with stiff resistance in the first step of their offensive to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul.

    About 4,000 Iraqi forces started their advance toward a number of villages about 75 kilometers southeast of Mosul at 6 a.m. Thursday. Pershmerga forces said some of the villages had been evacuated.

    Reporting exclusively from the scene, VOA observed that the troops came from two directions, creating a pincer movement around the villages. By midafternoon, the troops had seized four villages, but had not yet managed to control all the area, Peshmerga General Najat Ali told VOA.

    "They advanced, but when they reached those villages, IS attacked them with suicide bombers, by mortars, by machine guns, by those weapons," he said. "They [Iraqi forces] are now stopped; they cannot advance."

    The forces are from two Iraqi brigades from Iraq's U.S.-trained 15th Division. Also involved are members of Sunni tribes, which many Peshmerga commanders have said are crucial to hold the traditionally Sunni areas.

    WATCH: Iraqi Forces Start Offensive on IS Stronghold of Mosul

    Iraqi Forces Start Offensive on IS Stronghold of Mosuli
    Sharon Behn
    March 24, 2016 9:49 PM
    Iraqi forces have taken their first steps toward retaking the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. VOA's Sharon Behn reports exclusively from the front line, where some 4,000 Iraqi troops, backed by Sunnis and supported by the Kurdish Peshmerga, are fighting to seize a number of villages southeast of the city.

    From the sandbagged berms of the front line, dark clouds of smoke in the distance rose from the horizon. Peshmerga soldiers said IS had set tires on fire to create clouds of dark smoke in an attempt to obscure their positions.

    Pivotal fight

    But as Najat Ali and his forces paid close attention, looking through binoculars, coalition airplanes flew overhead and pounded one of the villages with airstrikes.

    U.S. officials said coalition aircraft launched multiple airstrikes on at least two locations.

    WATCH: Video footage from the scene

    Iraq Forces, Backed by Peshmerga, Move on Mosul Villagesi
    March 24, 2016 12:05 PM
    Iraqi forces, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, have launched what they describe as the first step to take the Islamic State militant group's stronghold city of Mosul.

    In addition, 200 U.S. Marines were operating out of a small outpost called Fire Base Bell to provide artillery and targeting support for Iraqi forces.

    Najat Ali said the fight was a pivotal moment.

    "Now, really indeed, if the Iraqi army succeeds in this operation, they will succeed in the second and third step to liberate Qarrayah and Mosul," he said. "But if they fail in the first step, they will fail to liberate Mosul. They will not liberate Mosul easy; maybe it is harder than before."

    Mosul and nearby Makhmour, Iraq
    Mosul and nearby Makhmour, Iraq

    Another Peshmerga commander located to the north of Mosul said the area the Iraqi army was fighting for included roads connecting Mosul to other Iraqi cities, as well as the Qayyarah bridge across the Tigris river.

    “They are trying to clear this area because it is important,” Peshmerga General Hussein Nooraldin told VOA.

    When night falls ...

    As it got later in the warm, spring afternoon, Najat Ali said it was crucial for the Iraqi forces to decide whether to retreat or press on.

    "When it is becoming night, maybe it's a problem for the Iraqi army," the Peshmerga general said. He said his forces were bracing for a possible IS counterattack.

    An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga soldier flashes a victory sign as he sits atop his vehicle on the Makhmour frontline, where Iraqi forces took their first step in the battle for Mosul by trying to capture villages southeast of the IS-held city, March 24, 2016. (S.Behn / VOA)
    An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga soldier flashes a victory sign as he sits atop his vehicle on the Makhmour frontline, where Iraqi forces took their first step in the battle for Mosul by trying to capture villages southeast of the IS-held city, March 24, 2016. (S.Behn / VOA)

    Both Kurdish and Iraqi flags flew from the small front-line post, but the Kurdish Peshmerga are not taking an active part in the fight. They are holding the front line at what they consider the border of Kurdish territory.

    Yet parked directly behind them were mobile and field artillery.

    The offensive was launched from Makhmour, where a U.S. Marine was recently killed in an IS rocket attack. Iraqi forces have been gathering in the area in recent weeks.

    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Hastyar from: Kurdistan
    March 25, 2016 1:10 PM
    @ad.dawah99 Of course We Kurds are secularists, and we are defending our own country, we don't go around and behead people like the muslims do,, And yes, we Kurds, are Pro-American, Pro-Western governments, We aren't Pro-''islam'' or any arab country

    by: king Obama from: was dc
    March 25, 2016 11:52 AM
    for ever 1000 iraq troop 1 american can do there job

    by: King Obama from: Wasington DC
    March 25, 2016 11:51 AM
    Carpet bomb all of the mid east now

    by: steve from: USA
    March 25, 2016 11:21 AM
    Stiff resistance? Iraq's best division,the 15th, has already run away! They abandoned their positions and are hiding in the mountains! That is why the US Marines were brought in- to plug a hole in the line where Iraqi troops from the 15th division had fled and the put the entire Iraq army on the verge of collapse. The 15th was tasked with taking 3 abandoned villages that had no ISIS fighters in them, but instead they ran away. These cowards are never going to take Mosul!! Its a city the size of say Cleveland and they can not take an empty village. I say let these people slaughter each other, they have been doing so for 1400 years and it will never change! That is until the last Muslim beheads the second to last Muslim for not being Muslim enough!

    by: 1coolguy from: Alaska
    March 24, 2016 3:31 PM
    I don't know whether this would work, BUT considering the cost of lives and bombs, etc, it surprises me there is no such "Mother of all TEAR GAS" bombs that would be effective in an urban environment.
    A week or more of these dropped by the hundreds or thousands I would think would make anybody want to surrender.
    In Response

    by: p from: chiraq
    March 26, 2016 12:28 AM
    Check out FAE's. Also banned I believe.
    In Response

    by: Scuba from: misery
    March 25, 2016 10:50 AM
    Tear gas was outlawed in the use of war during the chemical weapons convention of the Geneva conventions.

    by: MartinArcher from: USA
    March 24, 2016 3:26 PM
    The Kurds are absolutely foolish to risk even one man or set foot on any land outside of Kurdistan on the basis of the US promises. The promises will not be kept. Don't they realize it is US policy to push them back under the control of Baghdad and Damascus?

    by: shadow
    March 24, 2016 2:40 PM
    Iragi forces are fighting but you are giving this battle news as if kurdish fighters were fighting.Peshmerge general said that they didnt participate this battle.I dont understand why US authorities and media are fond of kurds.

    by: Anonymous
    March 24, 2016 9:27 AM
    US created a monster called Osama to defeat Soviet Union. later, It suffered from the same. Now, US created ruthless jihadist groups in Syria to fight Assad. Now, it is suffering from the same jihadist groups. Why repeat the same mistake again and again? in the past, US used ruthless jihadists to defeat Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Now, US is trying to do the same in Syria to overthrow Assad.

    Any group that takes up arms to achieve its political objective must be labelled as a terrorist group. But, US is calling such ruthless jihadist groups as "moderate forces" in Syria. such deadly armed groups must not be labelled as moderate, insurgents or freedom fighters. They must not be branded as moderate or extremist. Because, All of them are terrorists in nature. jihadists are no good for US even if they claim to be pro-American.

    Foolish American foreign policy that arms and supports angry people in middle east to fight their government has only helped terrorists and jihadists. it only caused chaos and mayhem. Nothing else.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 24, 2016 7:20 AM
    Remember that the US armed and trained Iraqi 15th division is all Sunni Muslim, and most all of them came from ISIL captured towns and cities like Mosul and Ramada, where the conquering Sunni Muslim ISIL troops raped, enslaved, tortured and killed all non-Sunni Muslims, [and also], the Sunni Muslims in those captured towns and cities were forced to give Bay'ah (the oath of allegiance) to al-Baghdadi the Caliph of the Sunni Muslim ISIL Caliphate, (to submit to him, and obey him, and not make war on him) as long as it does not violate the laws of Allah, or be executed?

    NOW? .. The question will always be? .. Where will these Sunni Muslim Iraqi troops loyalties and allegiances be when helping to free Mosul, and afterwards? .. More than likely, the Sunni Muslim ISIL in Mosul will withdraw without fighting the Sunni Muslim Iraqi 15th division, to return at a later date? .. NOW? .. The Kurds will support these Sunni Muslim Iraqi 15th division from behind? .. do you blame them?
    In Response

    by: zaro from: USA
    March 25, 2016 1:07 PM
    Kurds are more muslim then any Evil Arab, Turk, Persian ever lived on this earth. They OPPOSE anything not in their favor. You Arabs welcomed ISIS just like you guys supported Saddam. You thought they would come and SAVE you from Nouri Maliki but NOT. If I was in charge of the Kurds I wouldn't let a single Peshmerga fight for you.

    They believe in living with any race, religion, etc. They are NOT Arabs, Turks, Persian, etc. All countries around Kurdistan helped in all the killings, gassing, torturing, raping, & selling you name it. All my life I've seen Arabs, Turks, and Persians kill Kurds. It's your fight not theirs. Russia and Israel are after those terrorists you created. There is no way in hell the Kurds will let the enemy back on their soil again. In your dreams.
    In Response

    by: steve from: usa
    March 25, 2016 11:29 AM
    Sorry but uts the other way around and its already happened, the Iraqi 15th division ran away and are hiding in the mountains. That's why the Marines were brought plug the hole the 15th made when they ran away and that is why this marine was killed. All that is going to happen is the Iraqis are going to hand their weapons over to ISIS and run...just like last time. And then ISIS will have mountains of ammo, tanks thousands of new humvee's etc. This isn't going to be a battle it just a cover operation to resupply ISIS.
    In Response

    by: 1coolguy from: Alaska
    March 24, 2016 3:36 PM
    Interesting. Are there no Shiite divisions that can do the job? I would believe they would be the first up to fight and kill as many ISIS as possible. Sunni on Sunni, I agree, seems to be a disaster.
    Wasn't it a Sunni Iraqi force who gave up their arms and equipment then ran from ISIS last year?
    In Response

    by: ad.dawah99 from: makkah
    March 24, 2016 3:31 PM
    the kurds are terrorists, non believing secularists and will work with any who oppose islaam whether they be zionists (isreal), atheists(russia), or rafidah/nusaris (assad/iran). they dont care about nothing but themselves. this is why the muslims fail in any endeavor

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