(Reuters) Several thousand Iraqi federal police are ready to join the assault against the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) terrorist group in east Mosul, a spokesman said on Monday, reinforcing troops who have faced weeks of fierce counter-attacks from the militants.
The extra forces are being deployed as the US-backed campaign to crush ISIL in its Iraqi stronghold enters its ninth week. Elite army troops have retaken a quarter of the city, but their advance has been slow and punishing.
The federal police units, around 4,000 strong, have been moved to southeast of the city, near an area where an army tank division last week made the deepest incursion into Mosul so far, briefly seizing a hospital used as a base by the militants.
The troops were forced to pull back from the Salam hospital, less than a mile (about 1 km) from the Tigris river which runs through the center of Mosul, when they were attacked by suicide car bombs, mortar volleys and machine gun fire.
A spokesman for Iraq’s federal police commander, Lieutenant-General Raed Shakir Jawdat, said the three brigades from the police Fifth Division were ready to move in, although he suggested they might not go into action immediately.
They are currently near Qaraqosh, about 15 km (10 miles) from the southeast edge of the city and are “fully prepared now to start the attack to control the eastern side of Mosul,” the spokesman said.
However he said they were waiting for advances elsewhere on the eastern front, where elite Counter Terrorism Services (CTS) have made steady street-by-street progress, unlike last week’s dramatic push by the armored division towards the hospital.
The CTS forces said on Sunday they had captured another district of east Mosul, the al-Nour neighborhood.
The police and CTS troops are part of a 100,000-strong Iraqi alliance which launched the campaign to retake Mosul on Oct. 17. It includes soldiers, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly Popular Mobilization forces (Hashd Shaabi), and is backed by a US-led international coalition.