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East Mosul declared free, officials expect tough battle for west

By
Andrew V. Pestano
Iraqi forces soldiers wait to begin training at Camp Taji, Iraq, on Sunday. The soldiers were learning from coalition personnel how to search personnel and vehicles for improvised explosive devices. On Tuesday, Iraq officially declared east Mosul has been fully liberated from the Islamic State. Photo courtesy of Spc. Christopher Brecht /U.S. Army
Iraqi forces soldiers wait to begin training at Camp Taji, Iraq, on Sunday. The soldiers were learning from coalition personnel how to search personnel and vehicles for improvised explosive devices. On Tuesday, Iraq officially declared east Mosul has been fully liberated from the Islamic State. Photo courtesy of Spc. Christopher Brecht /U.S. Army

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has officially declared east Mosul is fully liberated from the Islamic State though the battle for the western half of the city is expected to be much more difficult.

Abadi's declaration on Tuesday comes a week after the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service said it was victorious in east Mosul over the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

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"I congratulate the Iraqi people on the full liberation of east Mosul, made possible by the courage and sacrifices of our armed forces," Abadi said in a statement.

In one of the last neighborhoods taken from the Islamic State, Iraqi security forces found bomb factories and many types of explosives, including rockets and improvised explosive devices, Rudaw reported. Iraqi troops experienced heavy casualties mainly due to mortar attacks and car bombs in the latest effort to fully clear the Islamic State from the east.

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"After more than 100 days of hard urban combat, Iraqi officials announced the liberation of eastern Mosul," Combined Joint Task Force: Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State, said in a statement. "While clearance operations are ongoing, the Iraqi security forces control all areas inside the city east of the Tigris River, the east bank of the river around all five bridges crossing the Tigris River, Mosul University and the Nineveh Ruins."

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The second phase of the battle to retake Mosul -- which is led by Iraqi security forces and aided by the Kurdish Peshmerga, a Shiite-led militia, and the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State -- began Dec. 29 after the initial offensive, which began Oct. 17, was suspended.

Since Oct. 17, the coalition has conducted 558 airstrikes, destroying at least 151 car bombs, 361 buildings and facilities,140 tunnels, 408 vehicles, 392 bunkers, 24 anti-air artillery systems and 315 artillery and mortar systems, the coalition said.

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U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commanding general of the international coalition, called the victory in the east a "monumental achievement for not only the Iraqi security forces and sovereign government of Iraq, but all Iraqi people."

"This would have been a difficult task for any army in the world ... and to see how far the Iraqis have come since 2014, not only militarily, but in their ability to put their differences aside and focus on a common enemy, gives real hope to the people of Iraq that after years of fighting and instability, peace and security are attainable," Townsend said in a statement. "There is still a long way to go before ISIL is completely eliminated from Iraq, and the fight for western Mosul is likely to be even tougher than the eastern side."

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The United Nations has warned that the hundreds of thousands of people in western Mosul, which is more densely populated than the east, are facing a humanitarian crisis.

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"The reports from inside western Mosul are distressing ... all evidence points to a sharply deteriorating situation," U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said in a statement. "We don't know what will happen in western Mosul but we cannot rule out the possibility of siege-like conditions or a mass exodus."

The United Nations estimates about 750,000 civilians remain in west Mosul, where food prices have soared and water and electricity services are irregular.

"The warriors of the coalition join me in congratulating our comrades in the Iraqi security forces on this achievement and wish them good luck and Allah's blessings for the fight on the west side that lies ahead," Townsend said.

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