Iraqi forces consolidate gains in eastern Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi special forces mopping up in territory seized in eastern Mosul killed eight Islamic State militants Wednesday as residents fled to safety from nearby areas and men shaved the beards they were forced to grow while the extremists were in control.

In the easternmost district of Gogjali, shops were boarded up, with some reduced to burned-out shells. Families stood in their doorways, some holding white flags, while children flashed the “V” for victory sign to the passing troops. A few women ululated in celebration as columns of vehicles passed.

Consolidating the gains in the area lays the groundwork for the troops’ next stage of operation: entering Mosul’s more urban central neighborhoods, a densely built-up zone likely to contain booby traps and roadside bombs.

That could mean house-to-house combat and might take weeks, if not months, with the city center about 6 miles away.

The area’s deputy “emir” was sprawled on a central street, shot and killed by soldiers when he tried to approach them in an explosives-laden vest. Residents watched as the body, clad in a military uniform, was dragged away past an Abrams tank.

A man the troops identified as the deputy’s superior was arrested and taken away in a military vehicle. He wore Afghan-style clothing popular among jihadis and a red kaffiyeh.

Six other militants were killed in a tunnel in the neighborhood, said Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi of the Iraqi special forces, speaking in an interview with The Associated Press.

For Hassan Hussein, a 22-year-old father of two, the day marked a fresh start.

“Today I feel like a new man, especially after shaving for the first time in two years,” he said. “My face feels cold!”

The Islamic State group enforces a strict code on public dress and appearance in territory it controls, with men required to have long beards, and women ordered to wear a niqab — a face covering and full-body veil over their clothes, under threat of lashings and fines.

Hundreds of civilians cleared out of the adjacent neighborhood of al-Samah, some carrying white flags. The women still wore the niqab, although many had removed their face veils and one took off the full-body covering entirely. The men retained their long beards.