Allied forces continue sweep to Mosul; ex-governor wanted by Iraq over Turkey spat

MOSUL, Iraq,  The march toward Mosul has so far gone smoother than expected, commanders said Thursday — but the tension between Iraq and Turkey continues to heat up, even though they’re both fighting for the same thing.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters watch smoke rise in the distance near Mount Zardak, east of Mosul, on Monday as they take part in an operation against Islamic State group jihadists. Thursday, officials said the fight for the city has gone quicker and smoother than expected, as militants continue to run away from the approaching forces. Photo by Shvan Harki/ UPI | License Photo

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the battle to free Mosul from two years of Islamic State control has been moving quicker than planned.

“The fighting forces are currently pushing forward toward the town more quickly that we thought and more quickly than we had established in our plan for this campaign,” he said during a teleconference Thursday, also praising the shared effort between Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and the U.S.-led international coalition.Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism unit, which has been trained and supported by the American military, joined the Mosul offensive for the first time on Thursday.

It’s those special forces troops who are expected to lead the allied forces into Mosul

 Villagers near the north Iraqi town celebrated as coalition forces closed in and Islamic State militants appeared to try and destroy everything they could before the U.S.-led forces arrive — including oil wells that have been a main source of funding for the group since 2014.

Corpses belonging to militants littered the streets and villagers jubilantly celebrated their demise, ABC News reported Thursday.

“They make us sick,” one resident said. “I stayed because they have bombs in the roads and they have snipers.”

The top U.S. commander for the ground forces in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, praised the Baghdad forces for their swift progress.

“The Iraqis are ahead of where I thought they would be when this operation started,” he said.

The Kurdish Peshmerga, which has for months aided Iraqi security forces by capturing territory surrounding Mosul, on Thursday launched a “large-scale operation” focusing north of the city in attempts to solidify territorial gains made already.

While coalition forces celebrate gains, not all of the allied parties are on good terms.Turkey, which has previously said it plans to participate in the Mosul offensive, continues to quarrel with Baghdad. Thursday, the government issued an arrest warrant for Atheel al-Nujaifi, the former governor of Mosul, for lending assistance to Turkish forces.

Last week, Turkish and Iraqi leaders expressed dissatisfaction with one another — with President Recep Erdogan pledging to fight with coalition troops and Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi claiming Turkey’s presence in the country was illegal.

As more people flee Mosul, more former residents are speaking out about conditions under IS rule, which is based from a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

“In the beginning it was alright,” one told CNN. “But then they started ordering around and killing people. Everyone is afraid of them.”

 “From the outside it looks nice,” another said. “But in reality, it’s a life of fear and hardship.”

Rudaw reported that Mosul residents faced severe financial conditions after the city — Iraq’s second-largest — was captured by the Islamic State in June 2014. Most basic goods such as food needed to be imported from the Islamic State’s second main stronghold, the Syrian city of Raqqa.

About 70 percent of Mosul’s foreign imports came from Syria, while some food and clothing came from Turkey, Rudaw reported. People with chronic diseases do not have access to life-saving medicines. Infants die due to the lack of milk and medication.

The main source of income for most of Mosul’s residents comes from locally grown wheat, barley and livestock. About 20 percent of Mosul’s residents are considered to be living well due to collaboration with the Islamic State.

The desperate conditions led many of Mosul’s residents to sell a kidney. The practice became so common that the Islamic State became involved in the process — paying residents for their kidneys and selling those kidneys away for a higher profit.

By Andrew V. Pestano and Doug G. Ware