The first week of Iraq's Mosul offensive

In the week since Iraq launched an operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, its forces have pushed toward the city from the north, east and south, battling the militants in a belt of mostly uninhabited towns and villages.

In the heavily mined approaches to the city, they met with fierce resistance as IS unleashed suicide truck bombs, rockets and mortars. In other areas, the militants retreated, and in at least one village civilians rose up and overthrew them before the troops arrived.

IS meanwhile launched a massive assault on the city of Kirkuk, some 170 kilometers (100 miles) away, killing at least 80 people in two days of clashes in an apparent attempt to divert Iraqi forces.

Here is a look at the main developments during the first week of the offensive:


Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters clean their weapons outside Bartella, Iraq, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. By Thursday, the Iraqi forces had advanced as far as Bartella, a historically Christian town some nine miles (15 kilometers) from Mosul's outskirts. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

Iraqi army soldiers man a checkpoint as oil wells burn on the outskirts of Qayyarah, Iraq, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. A senior Iraqi general on Wednesday called on Iraqis fighting for the Islamic State group in Mosul to surrender as a wide-scale operation to retake the militant-held city entered its third day. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

 


Territorial Gains

Iraqi special forces captured Bartella, a historically Christian town some 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Mosul, and celebrated victory by raising the Iraqi flag over its church and ringing the church bell.

The Iraqi army's 9th Division pushed into the nearby town of Hamdaniyah and said it captured the main government compound. To the north, Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga have driven IS out of several villages and, along with Iraqi special forces, have encircled the town of Bashiqa.

Progress has been slower to the south of Mosul, where troops have only advanced to around 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the city. They were hampered over the weekend after IS torched a nearby sulfur plant, sending a cloud of toxic fumes into the air that mingled with smoke from oil wells the militants had lit on fire.


Islamic State graffiti that reads: "There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah - Islamic State," is seen inside the main church in Bartella, Iraq, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. By Thursday, the Iraqi forces had advanced as far as Bartella, a historically Christian town some nine miles (15 kilometers) from Mosul's outskirts. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

A member of Iraq's elite counterterrorism rings the bell in the church of Saint Shmoni, damaged by Islamic State fighters, in Bartella, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Iraqi forces captured Bartella, around 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Mosul. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

 

Weapons belonging to resting members of Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces are placed near a depiction of the Last Supper, damaged by Islamic State fighters, at a house in Bartella, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Iraqi forces captured Bartella, around 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Mosul. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

 

A man tends to a flock of sheep as thick smoke is seen on the horizon in Qayyarah, about 31 miles (50 km) south of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Islamic State fighters torched a sulfur plant south of Mosul, sending a cloud of toxic fumes into the air that mingled with oil wells the militants had lit on fire to create a smoke screen. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
 

A member of the Iraqi security forces gets medical attention after inhaling sulfur fumes, at a hospital in Qayyarah, about 31 miles (50 km) south of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Islamic State fighters torched a sulfur plant south of Mosul, sending a cloud of toxic fumes into the air that mingled with oil wells the militants had lit on fire to create a smoke screen. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

 

A boy gets his skin treated for sulfur burns at a hospital in Qayyarah, about 31 miles (50 km) south of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Islamic State fighters torched a sulfur plant south of Mosul, sending a cloud of toxic fumes into the air that mingled with oil wells the militants had lit on fire to create a smoke screen. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

A boy gets his skin treated for sulfur burns at a hospital in Qayyarah, about 31 miles (50 km) south of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Islamic State fighters torched a sulfur plant south of Mosul, sending a cloud of toxic fumes into the air that mingled with oil wells the militants had lit on fire to create a smoke screen. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)


U.S. Role

The U.S.-led coalition is providing airstrikes and ground support, with more than 100 American soldiers embedded with Iraqi units and hundreds more in staging bases near the front lines. An American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb near Bashiqa, marking the first U.S. casualty of the operation.

The peshmerga said Sunday that 25 of its fighters have been killed since the operation began. The Iraqi military has not released any casualty figures. Iraqi and Kurdish forces have asked for more coalition airstrikes, and the Kurds have requested more armored vehicles and roadside bomb detectors. They say most of the fallen peshmerga troops were traveling in unarmored vehicles.

Two Iraqi television reporters have also been killed, one while covering the fighting south of Mosul and the other while covering clashes in Kirkuk


In this Monday, Oct. 17, 2016 photo, Peshmerga convoy drives towards a frontline in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq. In the week since Iraq launched an operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, its forces have pushed toward the city from the north, east and south, battling the militants in a belt of mostly uninhabited towns and villages. In the heavily mined approaches to the city they met with fierce resistance, as IS unleashed suicide truck bombs, rockets and mortars. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)


Humanitarian Fallout

The U.N. and aid organizations say some 5,000 civilians have been displaced since the operation began, a tiny fraction of the 1 million people remaining inside Mosul.

Aid groups fear that a mass exodus from the city could overwhelm camps set up around its outskirts, and the Iraqi government has called on Mosul residents to remain in their homes. Aid groups also fear that IS, which has been killing alleged informants in Mosul in recent weeks, may use civilians as human shields.


Smoke rises as people flee their homes during clashes between Iraqi security forces and members of the Islamic State group fleeing Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The pace of operations slowed on Tuesday as Iraqi forces began pushing toward larger villages and encountering civilian populations on the second day of a massive operation to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo)
 

Internally displaced persons sit at a checkpoint as smoke rises from the burning oil wells in Qayyarah, about 31 miles (50 km) south of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Islamic State fighters torched a sulfur plant south of Mosul, sending a cloud of toxic fumes into the air that mingled with oil wells the militants had lit on fire to create a smoke screen. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

 

Smoke rises from Islamic state positions after an airstrike by coalition forces in Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The pace of operations slowed on Tuesday as Iraqi forces began pushing toward larger villages and encountering civilian populations on the second day of a massive operation to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo)

 

A girl sits on a pile of mattresses at a camp for displaced families in Dibaga, near Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The campaign to retake Mosul comes after months of planning and involves more than 25,000 Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters and state-sanctioned Shiite militias. It is expected to take weeks, if not months, to drive Islamic State militants out of Iraq's second largest city, which is still home to more than a million people. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
 

People gather as aid is being distributed at a camp for displaced families in Dibaga, near Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. The campaign to retake Mosul comes after months of planning and involves more than 25,000 Iraqi troops, Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters and state-sanctioned Shiite militias. It is expected to take weeks, if not months, to drive Islamic State militants out of Iraq's second largest city, which is still home to more than a million people. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)


Tensions With Turkey

The launch of the Mosul operation has aggravated tensions with neighboring Turkey over the presence of some 500 Turkish troops at a base near Bashiqa, where they are training Kurdish and Sunni fighters who are taking part in the offensive.

Baghdad says the troops are there without its permission and has ordered them to leave. Ankara has refused, insisting that it play a role in the Mosul operation. Turkey is closely allied with the Sunni former governor of Ninevah province, where Mosul is the capital, and Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, both of whom have pressed for greater autonomy from Iraq's Shiite-dominated central government.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the region in part to try to ease tensions between the two U.S. allies, but did not appear to make much progress, as both sides stood by their demands.


Kurdish security forces take up a position as they fight overlooking the Islamic State-controlled in villages surrounding Mosul, in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway. (AP Photo)

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr wave national flags during a demonstration in front of the Turkish Embassy calling for the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Iraq, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. Thousands of followers of al-Sadr are demanding the withdrawal of Turkish troops from a base near the northern city of Mosul. Turkey says the troops are training Iraqi fighters to help retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, and that they are there with the permission of the Iraqi government. Baghdad denies it granted permission and has ordered them to withdraw -- a call Ankara has ignored. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

 

Smoke rises from Islamic state positions after an airstrike by coalition forces in Mosul, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The pace of operations slowed on Tuesday as Iraqi forces began pushing toward larger villages and encountering civilian populations on the second day of a massive operation to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. (AP Photo)


Where We Go From Here

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi insists the operation is progressing ahead of schedule. But the fight to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Iraq's army and police are still rebuilding from their humiliating defeat in the summer of 2014, when IS seized Mosul and much of northern and central Iraq in a matter of days. They have struggled in the past to make progress on more than one front simultaneously, and they have only advanced a few kilometers (miles).

As they get closer to the city and take the fight to more populated areas, they will have to rely less on coalition airstrikes and heavy shelling. The militants will have a dense urban environment in which to hide, and they've had two years to prepare.


An Iraqi army soldier stands next to a dead body of an Islamic State fighter on the outskirts of Qayyarah, Iraq, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. A senior Iraqi general on Wednesday called on Iraqis fighting for the Islamic State group in Mosul to surrender as a wide-scale operation to retake the militant-held city entered its third day. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

 

In this Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 photo, people watch a burning oil well in Qayyarah, about 31 miles (50 km) south of Mosul, Iraq. In the week since Iraq launched an operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, its forces have pushed toward the city from the north, east and south, battling the militants in a belt of mostly uninhabited towns and villages. In the heavily mined approaches to the city they met with fierce resistance, as IS unleashed suicide truck bombs, rockets and mortars. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)


Text from AP news story, Limited gains in first week of Iraq's Mosul offensive, by Susannah George and Joseph Krauss.

Photos by Marko Drobnjakovic, Bram Janssen, Khalid Mohammed and Karim Kadim

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