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Iraqi offensive on Islamic State-held Mosul stalled by rain

By Ed Adamczyk Follow @adamczyk_ed Contact the Author   |   March 28, 2016 at 10:14 AM
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MOSUL, Iraq, March 28 (UPI) -- An Iraqi army offensive to retake the city of Mosul was suspended after five days due to bad weather, a Kurdish commander said Monday.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry announced Thursday the start of a major offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, which was captured in June 2014 by the Islamic State.

Ziryar Vesani, a commander of the Peshmerga, or Iraqi Kurdistan army, said the Iraqi army offensive stopped at Nesir, south of Mosul, and no advance was possible until the rainy weather ended. The Iraqi army and Shiite allied forces are attacking Mosul from three directions, with the Peshmerga in a supporting role.

Last week, Gen. Joe Dunford, U.S. joint chiefs of staff chairman, said in Washington the Department of Defense will soon provide recommendations to send more U.S. troops to Iraq to increase anti-Islamic State operations. Dunford added he and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter believe a larger U.S. presence in Iraq is required and predicted "there will be an increase to the U.S. forces in Iraq in the coming weeks, but that decision hasn't been made."

Any decision made by President Barack Obama will be made in the broader context of requirements to maintain momentum against IS, "and what specifically do we need to do to enable operations in Mosul," Dunford added.

The IS occupation of Mosul and the subsequent Iraqi campaign have forced thousands to flee. Many are Christians who once numbered in the tens of thousands in the city, among Christianity's oldest enclaves. Christians fear their own extinction as their numbers have fallen, from about 1.5 million prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, to several hundred thousand. Many gathered in Baghdad to celebrate Easter.

"We are threatened with extinction. This is a harsh word but every day we are being depleted. Our people are traveling, migrating," said Muyessir al-Mukhalisi, a priest at St. George's Chaldean Church in east Baghdad.

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