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‘Fight to the death’: snipers slow down Iraqi forces in Mosul's old city

By Reuters - Apr 06,2017 - Last updated at Apr 06,2017

Members of the Iraqi anti-terrorism forces sit in the back of a humvee advancing towards Maghreb neighbourhood in the western part of the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday (AFP photo)

MOSUL, Iraq — Taking aim through a telescope on his rifle, the police officer opened fire on a Daesh terror group sniper from the top floor of a tower in Mosul before quickly pulling back to take cover.

"Hit the sniper at the mosque," his commanding officer told him as he aimed at his target in the old city, one of the only districts still in the militants' hands in their last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Iraqi forces are trying to advance through the narrow, maze-like streets towards the symbolic Al Nuri Mosque, where Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” in 2014.

But progress is much slower than in the early phases of the campaign, during which government forces took nearly three quarters of the city within five months. 

The front line has hardly moved in the past three weeks, and the militants, along with roughly 400,000 residents, are trapped inside a ring of Iraq troops. 

The soldiers expect the militants to fight to the death.

"Daesh militants are resisting on a professional level because they have no escape routes left," said a second policeman Hussein Qassem.

"They are resisting until they are killed. God willing we will not leave any Daesh militants. We will fight till the end." 

But advances are hard-won and fragile. 

On Thursday, members of the federal police co-leading the advance said it was not safe to go to Mosul museum, which they had retaken three weeks ago.

"There is a lot of sniper activity over there behind that building," a third police officer said, pointing towards an area behind the museum about 100 metres away.

Just days ago, they had taken journalists to the museum and other areas closer to the front line.

"It's now only about snipers and car bombs," said an officer deployed from a Baghdad unit, as gunfire rang out and soldiers took cover among troop carriers and Humvees behind piles of sand. "They don't have many snipers but they move around."

 They now face an extra danger.


Late on Thursday, the militants shot down a helicopter providing air support for the federal police, the first aircraft downed by Daesh over Mosul since the start of the US-backed offensive in October. 

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