The minaret of the mosque of al-Nouri periodically peeking out from the terrace of a skyscraper and through the left bullet in the window hole. He is so close, just 700 metres from the front line. But at the same time so far… the Iraqi soldiers close to him for a week. They are at the boundary of the old city in the West of Mosul. Its streets no wider than a meter surround the mosque, where the first and only once appeared in public the “Caliph” of the “Islamic state” (banned in Russia as a terrorist organization — approx. ed.) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. It happened July 4, 2014, a few days after the wave has covered jihadists Mosul.
The leadership of the Iraqi army is convinced: the capture of the mosque an-Nuri will mark the end of ISIS in city and all over Iraq. “She is the heart of the Caliphate. When she was released, resistance in other areas will collapse by itself. It would mean the end of ISIS,” says the Colonel Falah, commander of the first brigade of the Division a quick response.
Soldiers will take the mosque and the old town. But not as quickly as hoped. In the winter they spent three months on the liberation of Eastern Mosul on the other side quietly flowing through the city of the Tiger. On 20 February they started fighting for Western areas. At first their advance from the South was fast: a few kilometers a day. They regained control over the village of al – Arij airport and moved further North. However, with the approach to the old town, the battles become harder.
The last six days, the front line has frozen in place. The soldiers buried her in a house near the market. Their positions are unstable, and the IG has a fierce resistance. Sunday at the Park released more than a week ago the Mosul Museum still whistling bullets, and the surrounding streets, thundering explosions of mortar shells. “All the rest of the IG people had regrouped in the old town. They are waiting for us. Tactically, there is nothing strange, we would have done as well. The streets are too narrow for armored vehicles, and we have to move on foot,” says the Colonel Falah.
The soldiers and the jihadists find themselves face-to-face, only a few dozen meters from each other, close enough to throw a grenade. Sometimes even in the same building. “It happens that we are on the first floor, and one or two jihadist on the roof. Close enough to swearing. We shout: “sons of Bitches, we will kill!” “Apostates!” — heard in response from their side,” said the young sapper.
The militants an advantage in that they can prepare accordingly. They dug a tunnel and broke through the wall in order to pass freely from house to house. They had time to choose positions for snipers above high-rise buildings and buildings that overlook the main street. When they find them, they move and sometimes even go to the front line to open fire in the back of the advancing soldiers.
Sniper ISIS sat down at a hotel a few hundred meters from the metal bridge that you need to take the Iraqi soldiers. Sergeant Ali Karim rises to the second floor and stops at the destroyed room. The ceiling was half collapsed from the bed there was a heap of rubble, the door knocked. Lying in the corner left by the deserters of the IG pile of cut hair and beards. Two wood mounted mirror. In the reflection you can see the building with two round holes. “There’s a sniper, less than 30 metres, in a whisper said the Sergeant. — If he hears us, he will notice and will keep under the gun until you see the ability to fire”. Iraqi soldiers never saw him, but they know at the hearing, the manner of doing several shots.
On the street in the course of the same tactics of stealth and waiting. “The militants hiding around the corner or even in the ruins of the house. If you walk past them, it’s too late, because they have time to produce a number of rounds before we eliminate them. Our soldiers are fighting, but they want to live and walk in dismissal. Fighters — no” — explains the head of the operations division Colonel Aref.
A booby-trapped bulldozer
In addition, the jihadists are not visible to their enemies weapons: car bombs. Roads in the liberated neighborhoods littered with charred and mangled skeletons of cars. Parts of the engines, shafts and pieces of bodies scattered across the streets.
March 15, have won a few days earlier the administration building exploded a bomb in the dozer cabin which was closed sheet steel. He fought through carelessly placed on the intersection of the boom, and the explosion destroyed several armored vehicles. The driver of one of the cars died: he was burned alive, because he was crushed by the collapsed armor plates. “We heard him calling for help until he died. There was nothing we could do: his car was sandwiched between other”, — the soldier tells his unit.
In the second half of the day on Sunday, one bulldozer broke through the front line and closer to the Mosul Museum. He would have moved on, but it slowed down after the airstrike the remaining hole. After discovering it attacked coalition aircraft. A ball of fire in a cloud of smoke rose to a height of several dozen meters. The earth trembled, and the pieces flew over several streets, arriving at the Park. The Iraqi army does not report the number of victims, but killed at least four soldiers. In addition, an officer and several soldiers were captured.
The Iraqi military remains a numerical superiority. In addition to the division of rapid response in Western Mosul involved the Federal police and the counter-terrorism unit. Regular troops complete the encirclement of the North. In total deployed several thousand people. They are opposed by a few hundred, maybe a thousand jihadists. Iraqi commanders know their basic positions. They are marked with red circles on the maps that they have downloaded to the tablet. In addition, there is indicated the location of the snipers, groups of three to four people and fighters with rocket-propelled grenades. Dozens of points, and that they are not overlapped with each other, you need to zoom the map. With the destruction of the enemy positions are marked in yellow.
The Iraqi army controls the skies. Over the heads without end scurry helicopter gunships. They operate under the fulfilled scheme: fly, dive, and open fire from a machine gun, releasing two rockets and fly away. Coalition aircraft also, but much less active than during the liberation of Eastern Mosul. “If we wanted, we could reclaim the city for ten days, but then have nothing left,” said the Colonel Aref.
No one knows how many there still civilians. The population of the liberated areas says about 250 thousand people, but this is unconfirmed figures. “They are clamped, the IG does not allow them to leave. The last time I was able to speak to relatives living there 25 Feb. They were already exhausted and were sitting without food,” worries Raslani Abu Abdullah, a trader from the area, located near the airport. Officers claim that the inhabitants hiding in the cellars of the houses, and that the military are doing everything to prevent casualties among the population. “Strikes from helicopters aimed at the upper floors. The strikes of the coalition aircraft are too powerful, they destroy everything,” — said the Colonel Falah. NGOs like Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the impact of the bombing.
Since the beginning of the week, several operations were canceled due to rain (it interferes with the helicopters) and the revision of plans. The soldiers marking time, but they were not too worried about it. Most are fighting with the IG since 2014 and have been accustomed to the leisurely fighting. They talk, light a fire in the ruined shops, smoke hookah. 29-year-old Ali shows the scar on his right arm where the bullet during the offensive on Ramadi in late 2014. “The IG was not there tunnels, the fighting was face-to-face. Here at first it was easy, but now there is a fierce struggle. They are surrounded and will do everything in their power. But we still win. It is a question of time.” A few meters away from him, the soldiers opened fire from a grenade when he saw the jihadist movement in the old city.