Over 30 killed in ISIS attacks amid battle for Mosul

Iraqi security forces begin the second phase of their offensive against Islamic State militants in Mosul, pushing further into the eastern districts.
One of the victims of the suicide bomb attack near Mosul on Thursday. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
One of the victims of the suicide bomb attack near Mosul on Thursday. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BAGHDAD • Mortar fire and car bombs have killed more than 30 people, including aid workers, near Mosul as Iraqi forces battle to seize the city from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

A triple car bombing at a market on Thursday killed at least 23 people in Gogjali, a few kilometres east of Mosul, the army said.

Gogjali was retaken by pro-government forces on Nov 1, two weeks into a massive operation to oust ISIS militants from their last stronghold in Iraq.

Since launching the operation against ISIS on Oct 17, Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service has advanced into Mosul from the east, but progress has since slowed.

"A terrorist attack in the form of three car bombs at a market in Gogjali killed 15 civilians and eight police officers," a coordination centre for the forces fighting ISIS said a statement. ISIS said three of its suicide bombers carried out the attack.

Mortar fire also killed 11 people, including four aid workers, as civilians gathered to receive assistance in Mosul city, the United Nations said.

"According to initial reports, four aid workers and, at least, seven civilians queuing for emergency assistance in eastern Mosul city have been killed by indiscriminate mortar fire," Ms Lise Grand, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said in a statement on Thursday.

She added that two separate incidents had taken place over the past 48 hours that also wounded 40 people.

Iraqi forces pushing towards Mosul on the southern front have yet to enter the city, and another advance from the north has stalled. To the west, forces from pro-government paramilitary groups are close to the town of Tal Afar, between Mosul and the border with Syria.

However, areas taken from the militants are still exposed to deadly artillery attacks, bombs and gunfire.

Monday's attacks in Gogjali and Mosul came a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) said ISIS was "indiscriminately" attacking civilians who refused to retreat along with the militants in Mosul.

The extremists have targeted civilians with mortars, explosives and gunfire, HRW said.

More than 100,000 people have fled since the Iraqi operation against ISIS began, and aid groups said they fear it could result in the displacement of more than a million people.

The government has encouraged civilians in Mosul - a million or more people may still be living in the city - to stay in their homes if possible.

That could help prevent a potentially catastrophic wave of displacement. But it also hampers the progress of Iraqi forces and exposes civilians to significantly more danger than they would face in camps.

The Iraqi air force dropped 4 million letters over Mosul on Thursday.

The move was aimed at providing "empathy and support" for residents of the city, the United States-led coalition said in a statement.

"The letters of empathy and support for Mosul residents were written by Iraqis from all over the country."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2016, with the headline 'Over 30 killed in ISIS attacks amid battle for Mosul'. Print Edition | Subscribe