In Mosul, civilians clamor for food, cigarettes

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Explosions and gunfire rattled parts of eastern Mosul and Islamic State militants fired mortars from apartment windows Tuesday as Iraqi special forces waged fierce urban combat in the country’s second-largest city.

Hundreds of civilians filled the streets clamoring for food and cigarettes in recently retaken neighborhoods where supplies were running low. Some of the troops handed over their own rations.

Iraqi forces say they have largely cleared the neighborhoods of Zahra and Qadisiya in eastern Mosul after pushing into the area Nov. 4. The operation to retake the militant-held city began Oct. 17 and troops made swift progress before their advances slowed once they pushed into more densely populated areas.

Iraqi forces moving in from the south have maintained slow progress and remain more than 12 miles from central Mosul.

“This morning, we have like 1,000 people from the civilians, who escape from this area to safer area,” said Ali Tahseen, a special forces solider in eastern Mosul.

Mosul has been under the tight control of the extremists for more than two years and is still home to some 1 million civilians. Aid groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis if hundreds of thousands are forced from their homes during the military operation.

“This is a problem for us because the food we have is not enough for them and we’re waiting for more food to be sent from the government,” said Maj. Salam al-Obeidi. “Now the Iraqi soldier is giving his food to the civilians.”

Residents gathered on the streets to exchange news. A long line grew outside a shop selling cigarettes, where people argued and bought dozens of packs each now that the extremists and their smoking bans were gone.

“Before, it was prohibited, cigarettes are prohibited,” said one resident, Hani Hamed, laughing happily. “Now we are free to smoke, so they are buying lots of cigarettes.”

Near the northeastern Zahra district, explosions and gunfire erupted as the special forces advanced. IS militants fired mortar rounds on the troops from apartment windows in the al-Samah neighborhood, wounding at least seven civilians when the shells landed in the streets below.

The army set up a field clinic with seven beds in a dust-swept open area to treat wounded troops and civilians. Teaming up with foreign volunteers, Iraqi medics administered first aid before sending the wounded to the hospital.

“There was heavy shooting near us. ISIS were there,” said Musenna Abdulla, who fled Mosul on foot. “They are not afraid of God, they destroyed us. And the last thing they did is they came to our house and set up a mortar position near our house and started shooting. We told them that there are civilians, but they didn’t care.”