Air strikes, shelling and other heavy clashes have shaken a small sliver of western Mosul in renewed fighting, a day after the Iraqi government declared victory over Islamic State in the city.
In a sign that IS militants are still holding out in the shattered Old City, plumes of smoke rose as mortar shells landed near Iraqi troop positions and heavy gunfire rang out.
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Air strikes pounded the edge of the neighbourhood west of the Tigris River throughout Tuesday.
On Monday, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi declared ‘total victory’ in Mosul, flanked by his senior military leadership at a small base in the city’s west.
The militants overran the northern city in summer 2014, when the extremists seized territory across Iraq and Syria.
The campaign by Iraqi forces and the coalition to retake the city began in October 2016 and the operation has killed thousands of people, left whole neighbourhoods in ruins and displaced nearly 900,000 from their homes.
A statement late on Monday from IS said its fighters were still attacking Iraqi troops in the al-Maydan area of the Old City, purportedly killing and wounding many and seizing weapons and ammunition.
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US Lt Gen Stephen Townsend said in a recorded video after Mr al-Abadi’s declaration that the victory in Mosul did not eliminate IS from Iraq and ‘there’s still a tough fight ahead’.
Mr Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, said the coalition will continue to support its Iraqi partners, and he urged Iraqis to unite and prevent a return of the conditions that allowed the rise of the extremists.
In Baghdad, Shiite politician Karim al-Nouri echoed those remarks, urging the government to review its policies in Sunni areas of Iraq to ‘avoid previous mistakes that led to the emergence’ of IS.
The government needs to work on ‘removing fears of marginalisation and terrorism affiliation in Sunni areas’, said Mr al-Nouri, a senior member of the Badr Organisation. He said he believes Iraqi forces should stay in Mosul until it is fully secure before handing control to local forces.
Politician Intisar al-Jabouri from Nineveh province, where Mosul is the capital, said uprooting IS’s ‘extremism ideology’ is the key to peace in Mosul, which reeled under the group’s harsh rule for three years.
She urged Baghdad to invest in ‘good relations’ between the residents and the security forces and take all ‘necessary measures to prevent terrorism groups from returning to Mosul’.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, proclaimed the battle for Mosul to be a ‘civilian catastrophe’, with more than 5,800 non-combatants killed in the western part of the city.
In its report, it alleged all sides in the conflict violated international law in the battle for the city. IS fighters carried out forced displacement and summary killings, as well as using civilians as human shields.
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Iraqi forces and the coalition failed to protect civilians, the report added.
In all, 5,805 civilians may have been killed in the fight for western Mosul by coalition attacks, Amnesty said, citing data from Airwars, an organisation monitoring civilian deaths due to the coalition against IS in Iraq and Syria.
‘The scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives during the military operation to retake Mosul must immediately be publicly acknowledged at the highest levels of government in Iraq and states that are part of the US-led coalition,’ said Lynn Maalouf, the research director for the Middle East at Amnesty.
At a briefing on Tuesday in Washington, Mr Townsend rejected the allegation that international law was violated by the coalition.
‘I reject any notion that coalition fires were in any way imprecise, unlawful or excessively targeted civilians,’ he said.
‘I would challenge the people from Amnesty International or anyone else out there who makes these charges to first research their facts and make sure they’re speaking from a position of authority.’