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Iraqi forces using siege and stealth to evict Islamic State from Mosul

News 25 Apr 2017

left right FILE PHOTO: Iraqi special forces soldiers search a house during a battle with Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic 1/3 left right FILE PHOTO – Federal police members fire a rocket at Islamic State fighters' positions during a battle at Jada district in western Mosul. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal 2/3 left right DAY 39 / FEBRUARY 27: President Trump is seeking what he called a 'historic' 9 percent increase in military spending, even as the United States has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains the world's strongest military power.Trump will ask Congress to boost Pentagon spending in the next fiscal year by $54 billion in his first budget proposal and slash the same amount from non-defense spending, including a large reduction in foreign aid, a White House budget official said.The president does not have the final say on federal spending. His plan for the military is part of a budget proposal to Congress. Although controlled by his fellow Republicans, Congress will not necessarily follow his plans. Budget negotiations with lawmakers can take months to play out.Officials familiar with Trump's budget blueprint said the defense increase would be financed partly by cuts to the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other non-defense programs.Trump's budget will not seek cuts in federal social programs such as Social Security and Medicare, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani 3/3 By Ahmed Aboulenein | MOSUL, Iraq,

MOSUL, Iraq, Iraqi forces are using siege and stealth tactics to drive Islamic State militants out of Mosul's Old City, a Iraqi general said, as his forces sought to minimize casualties among hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the cramped, historic neighborhood.

Explosions from two car bombs could be heard nearby as Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi spoke to Reuters at his command post on Monday, and a Reuters correspondent saw thick smoke rising from the blasts.

"Most houses in the Old City are very old and its streets and alleyways are very narrow," Assadi, a commander of Iraqi counter-terrorism units in Mosul, said. "So to avoid civilian losses we are using siege, but that does not mean we will not enter the Old City."

Assadi said his units were refraining from engaging enemy forces in positions where the militants were holding civilians as human shields.

"Using very careful methods and considerations, we will liberate our people from Daesh," he added, referring to an Arab acronym of Islamic State.

Government forces have surrounded the militants in the northwestern quarter including the Old City, home to the Grand al-Nuri mosque where their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a "caliphate" over parts of Iraq and Syria.

The ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim fighters are countering the offensive using booby traps, suicide motorcycle attacks, sniper and mortar fire, occasionally shells filled with toxic gas.

With food and water supplies becoming scarcer in neighborhoods of Mosul still under IS control, up to half a million people are believed to be trapped there, including 400,000 in the Old City alone, according to United Nations estimate.

Lise Grande, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, told Reuters last week fighting in the Old City could lead to "a humanitarian catastrophe, perhaps the worst" in the three-year war to evict Islamic State from Iraq.

International aid organizations have estimated the civilian and military death toll at several thousand since the U.S.-backed offensive by government forces to retake Mosul began in October. More than 330,000 people have been displaced so far, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, was captured by Islamic State in mid-2014, but government forces have retaken most of it, including the half that lies east of the Tigris River.

Assadi said the battle should end "very soon, God willing" but declined to indicate a time frame. "This is a guerrilla war not a conventional one so we cannot estimate how long it will take; Daesh is fighting house to house."

The Iraqi military estimate the number of Islamic State fighters who remain in Mosul at 200 to 300, mostly foreigners, compared with about 6,000 when the offensive started.

The militants "don't let themselves get captured," said Assadi. "They came to die and the majority of them are now in hell."

(Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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