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Iraqi Army Says it Reached Center of Key Town as ISIS Digs in behind Mosul Moat | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A resident inspects the site of car bomb attack in Baghdad July 13, 2015. Reuters

Iraq’s military backed by air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition on Thursday seized the center of Shirqat, a northern town in Salahuddin province seen as a stepping stone in the campaign to recapture Mosul from ISIS.

The army, backed by local police and Salahuddin’s Tribal Mobilization forces, were still clashing with the terrorists after taking control of the mayor’s office, the municipal building and the hospital, said a source from the Salahuddin Operations Command, which oversees military operations in the area.

Shirqat lies on the Tigris river 100 km south of Mosul, ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq.

Iraqi forces have advanced swiftly through the Shirqat area since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the operation on Tuesday morning.

The town’s proximity to Iraqi supply lines reaching Qayyara airbase further north, which will be used as a logistics hub for the push on Mosul, lends it strategic importance. A rocket attack on Tuesday that came within hundreds of meters of U.S. forces at the base is being tested for chemical agents.

The top general in the U.S. military, General Joe Dunford, said Wednesday Iraqi security forces will be ready by next month for an assault on Mosul.

“We assess today that the Iraqis will have in early October all the forces marshaled, trained, fielded, equipped that are necessary for operations in Mosul,” Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a military event in Washington.

“Timing of that operation now is really just a function of a political decision by Abadi.”

The U.S. envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition also said there would be “no tolerance” for sectarian torture and other abuses resulting from the planned offensive to recapture Mosul.

Brett McGurk, speaking at a meeting on the sidelines of the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, said the coalition was already taking steps to ensure there would be no repeat of the abuses seen in the wake of the recapture of Iraq’s Fallujah in June, when Shi’ite militias detained, abused and tortured scores of Sunni civilians.

Improved screening of people fleeing the city was crucial, he said, to ensure that ordinary residents received assistance and did not face abuses.

According to Reuters, ISIS is building a moat around Mosul, in preparation for the battle.

The city of 2 million fell to the militants in 2014 in a lightning advance, and the offensive to recapture it will be the biggest battle ISIS has ever fought.

Residents say the militants have been sealing off entire districts and building a network of tunnels across the city to obstruct government troops.

The group has been working hard this month to dig a two-meter by two-meter trench along the city’s perimeter and position oil tanks nearby to create a river of fire that would impede advancing troops and hinder aerial surveillance, according to senior Iraq military officers, Mosul residents, and local officials based outside the city.