Iraqi forces attack IS, push deeper into east Mosul area

The Iraqi army fires a 155mm shell towards Islamic State militant positions in Mosul, from the village of Ali Rash, east of Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Iraq launched a major offensive last month to drive IS out of the northern city, the country’s second largest, which is still home to more than 1 million civilians. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

NIMRUD, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi special forces pushed deeper into the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes but under attack by rockets and suicide bombers from the Islamic State group.

Troops have established a foothold in the city’s east, and earlier in the day, drove northward into the Tahrir neighborhood, where families left their houses to flee the fighting. Mortars from IS-held territory wounded at least five children trying to flee the fighting, who were evacuated by the troops.

Away from the front lines, Iraqi forces on Wednesday assessed the damage to the ancient site of Nimrud, a town some 19 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Mosul. Iraqi troops entered Nimrud on Sunday in what was the most significant gain in several days for government forces.

 Maj. Gen. Dhiaa al-Saadi, the deputy commander of Iraqi ground forces who oversaw the operation, said IS has almost completely destroyed the town’s ancient Assyrian archaeological site.

As the operation to retake Mosul progresses, al-Saadi said he expects to find more ruined heritage.

“We have information that all of the archaeological sites inside Mosul have already been destroyed,” he said.

The late 1980s discovery of treasures in Nimrud’s royal tombs was one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds. The government said the IS militants, who captured the site in June 2014, destroyed it the following year, using heavy military vehicles

In Mosul’s Tahrir neighborhood, mortars from IS-held territory killed a child and wounded at least three others trying to flee the fighting, who were evacuated by the troops.

Footage from Kurdish broadcaster Rudaw showed families carrying bloodied children — a little girl, a teenage boy and an infant — into a Humvee. As they were evacuated, the dazed infant lost consciousness. Rudaw later said a 3-year-old girl died in the attack while three other children were wounded.

Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition roared overhead in support of the special forces’ advance, while plumes of smoke rose over the city.

Iraqi troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, the country’s second largest city and the last major IS holdout in Iraq. The special forces have been the tip of the spear, driving the furthest into the city itself, but they are still fighting over neighborhoods on its eastern edges.

The offensive to drive IS out of Mosul began on Oct. 17. After swift initial gains into the suburbs, progress has slowed as troops move into more built-up areas, still home to more than 1 million civilians.

From their foot hold in the east, special forces have been advancing slowly over the past week to avoid casualties and civilian deaths as IS fighters emerge to attack from the dense urban landscape, often with armor-plated suicide car bombs.