MOSUL, Iraq, Iraqi air force plans dropped leaflets on Mosul warning the residents of an impending offensive to liberate the city from the Islamic State.
The leaflet dropped late Saturday came amid confusion over whether the full-scale assault on the country’s second largest city had started.
Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani announced the start in a statement posted online, saying “the preparation for the operation to liberate Mosul have been completed and have paved the way to begin the Mosul operation.” He added, “It is my sincere hope that this operation will be successful and that we will collectively liberate the people of Mosul from the tyranny of the terrorists of the Islamic State.”
But Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the anti-IS coalition, responded that the assault “will begin when announced by PM [Haider] Abadi. Anything said before then is premature,” he tweeted.
The prime minister said during a televised meeting with journalists and political analysts, “We have been battling ISIS for more than two years. We started fighting ISIS in the outskirts of Baghdad, and thank God we are now fighting them in the outskirts of Mosul, and God willing the decisive battle will be soon.”
Regardless of whether the assault officially has begun, west and east Mosul were hit by an artillery bombardment Saturday. Airstrikes also hit the city and Iraqi special forces were deployed in Mosul’s suburbs.
American howitzers, deployed 12.4 miles from Mosul city center, were hitting IS targets, Peshmerga Cmdr. Omer Huseyin told Anadolu Agency from Camp Bashiqa in northern Iraq.
“The Daesh terrorists started burning tires to block the view of the warplanes after international coalition forces struck the area,” he said. “Daesh terrorists also started burning the petroleum filled in their ditches, which they have dug around the city.” Daesh is another name for the IS.
The IS seized Iraq’s second largest city in June 2014 and is the group’s last major urban stronghold in the country.
The leaflets said the offensive to retake the city was imminent and airstrikes “will not target civilians.” Residents were told to avoid known locations of IS militants.
The four-page leaflets urged civilians to “Keep calm and tell your children that it is only a game or thunder before the rain. Women should not scream or shout, to preserve the children’s spirit.”
Residents were urged to tape over windows to prevent the glass from shattering.
Mosul residents say IS fighters have blocked major roads and bridges in and out of Mosul.
By Allen Cone
Edited by Bahdin Sevo Sindi