By REUTERSDEC. 31, 2016
Residents fleeing their home in the Intisar district of Mosul took cover behind a wall on Saturday as Iraqi forces advanced against fighters from the Islamic State. Credit Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BAGHDAD — Two bombings claimed by the Islamic State killed at least 25 people in central Baghdad on Saturday as fighting intensified in the northern city of Mosul, where government forces are trying to rout the jihadists from that city, their last major stronghold in the country.
The blasts, including one suicide attack, tore through a busy market in the Sinak neighborhood, the police said. A pro-Islamic State news agency said the assailants had targeted Shiite Muslims, whom they regard as apostates.
The Islamic State has continued to launch attacks in Baghdad, the heavily fortified capital, even after losing most of the northern and western territory it seized in 2014.
The recapture of Mosul would probably spell the end for the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, but the militants would still be capable of fighting a guerrilla-style insurgency in Iraq and plotting or inspiring attacks on the West.
The second phase of a United States-backed offensive, launched on Thursday after weeks of deadlock, has encountered fierce resistance. Conventional American forces deploying more extensively in this phase are now visible close to the front lines.
The renewed push involved heavy clashes on the southeastern and northern fronts on Saturday. An elite Interior Ministry unit continued to push on Saturday through the Intisar district of Mosul, where an American-trained army unit had struggled to advance after entering the district, in the southeastern part of the city, in November.
Middle East 00:26
Two bombs kill and injure dozens in Iraq
At least two dozen people were killed in central Baghdad on Saturday when two bombings, claimed by the Islamic State, hit the city. Photo by Ali Abbas/European Pressphoto Agency. Watch in Times Video »
Heavy gunfire was audible and attack helicopters fired overhead as hundreds of civilians fled their homes, a Reuters cameraman said.
In the north, a separate army unit pressed toward the border of Mosul proper after recapturing several outlying villages in recent days.
“There is a battle in Argoob area, which is considered the gateway to Hadba,” Lt. Col. Abbas al-Azawi said by telephone, referring to a strategic northern neighborhood.
Since the offensive began on Oct. 17, elite forces have retaken a quarter of Mosul, in the biggest ground operation there since the 2003 United States-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the group would be driven out of Iraq by April.
Although the militants are vastly outnumbered, they have embedded themselves among Mosul residents, hindering Iraqi forces who are trying to avoid civilian casualties. Despite food and water shortages, most civilians have stayed in their homes rather than fleeing as had been expected.
One resident reached by telephone late on Friday said a rocket had landed on a house in the eastern Mithaq district, killing six members of one family.
“We have not seen Daesh since the Iraqi forces restarted their offensive,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “We hear the sounds of large car bombs. Today I heard no fewer than 10 huge explosions.”