On the frontline – and on the edge of Mosul

The offensive that started two weeks ago still has momentum.

We watched as the first Iraqi special forces’ Humvees rolled into action and engaged the enemy, inching forward in a blaze of gunfire to the industrial district of Bazwaya.

Above us we could hear the rounds whistling past as Islamic State militants tried to target the advancing column of armour.


Iraqi troops enter a house to check for Islamic State fighters
Image Caption:
Iraqi troops enter a house to check for Islamic State fighters

They soon found their target. A mortar round crashed past our position missing us by about 20 metres.

A Golden Division medical team was not so lucky. As the smoke cleared from the plains of Nineveh province, we saw the first casualty.

The Iraqi Army is not issuing figures for the injured and dead in this operation but the forces involved are all paying a heavy price in blood.


Iraqi forces on the road to Mosul
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Iraqi forces on the road to Mosul

For the Mosul Division – who we travelled with to the new frontline – the battle is personal.

Colonel Muntather was stationed in the city when it was attacked in 2014.

Thirteen of his men were killed and he only just managed to escape with his life.

The attack by IS with only 1,500 men against the 30,000 of the Iraqi Army sealed the extremist movements’ reputation as a fearsome fighting force.


Colonel Muntather  was stationed in Mosul before being forced to flee Islamic State forces
Image Caption:
Colonel Muntather was stationed in Mosul before being forced to flee IS forces

Two years later and the colonel smiles when I ask him if he is still scared of IS.

“No we have no fear,” he says.

“We were very sad for the people that we lost. Now, God willing, we will take revenge on IS for the day they killed our friends and those who fought with us.

“And every time we kill IS we feel that blood of those who died was not in vain.”

:: Iraqi forces nearing Mosul


A displaced Iraqi girl looks on upon arriving to a refugee camp on October 22, 2016 in the town of Qayyarah, south of Mosul, as an operation to recapture the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group takes place
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Humanitarian crisis intensifies in Mosul

The operation in Bazwaya means Iraq’s special forces, the Golden Division, now have Mosul in their sights.

The gates of the city are less than a kilometre away.

But it will still take time before they can enter properly and hold ground.

Many of the areas they have moved through have still not been made safe and the buildings and roads are littered with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).


An Iraqi special forces soldier inside a tunnel used by Islamic State militants in Bazwaia, east of Mosul, Iraq
Image Caption:
An Iraqi special forces soldier inside a tunnel used by IS militants in Bazwaya, east of Mosul, Iraq

There is no doubt in the troops’ minds that Mosul will fall and the Iraqi Army will avenge their honour – but taking the city will be the easy part.

Defeating the extremists, who will resort to more conventional terrorist tactics with every inch of territory they lose, will be much harder.

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