Iraq raids IS stronghold ahead of Mosul retake

  • 09/01/2016

Special-forces raids on an Islamic State (IS) stronghold in northern Iraq are under way before a planned offensive to retake Mosul, the largest centre under the group's control, Iraq's parliamentary Speaker says.

Several attacks behind IS lines around Hawija, 210km north of Baghdad, were carried out in recent weeks, Salim al-Jabouri said on Thursday (local time).

Dubai-based al-Hadath and Iraqi media have reported at least half a dozen raids since late December, led by US special forces.

The US said last month it was deploying a new force of around 100 special operations troops to Iraq to conduct raids against Islamic State there and in neighbouring Syria, without providing details.

But US Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the international coalition bombing IS, this week rejected the media reports, calling them "Iranian disinformation" aimed at distracting from the Iraqi military's "success" against IS elsewhere.

He told Reuters coalition forces in Iraq have not operated on the ground since October, when US special forces rescued 69 Iraqis in a raid in Hawija that killed one US commando.

Special operations in Hawija "have been repeated a second and third time ... These operations are bearing fruit," said Jabouri, Iraq's senior Sunni Arab official. "They eliminate the terrorists and free innocents, and for us it represents a positive development."

Jabouri said the raids were carried out "from time to time" and "supported by Iraqi forces" but did not specify whether the US played a role or how many had occurred.

The raids are "not direct ground attacks; they are operations targeting the dens of Daesh (IS) in important and sensitive areas," Jabouri said.

He said the raids were related to Baghdad's goal of retaking Mosul, the city 400km north of Baghdad where IS declared its intention to establish a caliphate stretching across the border with Syria.