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'Kill zone' protects troops from terrorists in Mosul

An Iraqi soldier directs traffic in Mosul on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.

SETH ROBSON/STARS AND STRIPES

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 24, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq — A “kill zone” where Iraqi soldiers shoot anything that moves, runs along the east bank of the Tigris River here.

After three months of fierce combat, the Iraqi military has secured most of Mosul on the eastern side of the Tigris River, which divides the country’s second-largest city.

As they await orders to storm Islamic State positions on the western side, Iraqi elite troops sheltered this week from mortar fire and drone strikes in abandoned shops and restaurants near the river.

To protect their men from enemy infiltrators, commanders have designated a 200-meter-wide strip of sparse land along the river as a kill zone, said Capt. Saif Ali Nassif, a member of Iraq’s elite Counterterrorism Service, which has led the fight in Mosul.

“We control this side of the river, and the enemy can’t cross without air support,” he said.

The eastern side of Mosul bears stark witness to the ferocity of the fighting, which began in October.

Roads leading to the waterway are partly blocked by damaged vehicles and heavily cratered by 500-pound bombs dropped by the coalition air forces that support the ground troops.

The Nineveh Oberoi, Mosul’s largest hotel, stands a few hundred yards from the water. During the militants’ reign, it was renamed the Hotel of the Inheritors and hosted parties for terrorist commanders. Suicide bombers preparing for martyrdom were allowed to spend their last days at the 262-room, five-star facility, which is equipped with a swimming pool, tennis court and gym.

An Iraqi flag now flutters from the hotel’s roof.

“Nobody was there when we captured it,” Nassif said.

Some of the advancing Iraqi troops have occupied Christian homes that the militants commandeered during their rule.

.The people in Mosul’s Mohandiseen neighborhood, where Nassif and his men were occupying a house, told the soldiers that Yazidi and other girls had been held in the house and used as sex slaves by the militants.

“Nobody saw what went on, but they heard the sounds at night,” Nassif said, sitting beside a pink bed and mirror.

Mohandiseen resident Abu Ali said the extremists turned another house in his street into a prison for the Yazidi women’s children. The kids were brainwashed and sent to a camp in another part of town to train as child soldiers, Iraqi troops said.

Escape from the prison would have been next to impossible. Steel bars are welded over the windows, and cage-like doors with locks were installed in most rooms.

Buildings occupied by the enemy at Mosul University have been pounded to smithereens by the airstrikes. The fighters moved into suburban homes to avoid being targeted from the air, Nassif said.

Other private homes in Mohandiseen were used as bomb factories.

Reporters toured one that was full of artillery shells. Another stored dozens of homemade rockets and material for making improvised explosive devices, including fertilizer and metal shrapnel such as nuts and bolts.

Nearby, some of the special forces troops climbed minarets and stood guard at a large, partially completed mosque, known as the “Saddam Mosque” because construction began during the reign of the late dictator.

The massive building was filled with hundreds of air conditioners that, Nassif said, were stolen from Christian villages near Mosul and stockpiled for resale.

Nearby, Iraqi special forces soldiers were resting, their armored vehicles parked among the houses.

“We captured the east, but we are handing control to the regular army and preparing to go to the other side,” Nassif said.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

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Iraqi soldiers tour the inside of a massive, partly-built mosque that they captured from the Islamic State group in Mosul, Iraq on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.
SETH ROBSON/STARS AND STRIPES

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