Iraqi troops fighting Islamic State militants in the eastern outskirts of Mosul regrouped on Monday in neighborhoods they have recently retaken from the extremist group and conducted house-to-house searches looking for vehicles primed for use in suicide bombings, according to a top Iraqi commander.
Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi military's special forces told The Associated Press his men also foiled two attempted suicide car bombings early Monday, firing from a U.S.-made tank on the approaching vehicles, which exploded before reaching their intended targets.
He said a civilian woman was wounded in the blasts.
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The Iraqi military launched a campaign on Oct. 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and the extremist group's last major urban bastion in the country. Most gains have been made by the special forces operating in the part of the city east of the Tigris river. Other forces are advancing on the city from different directions, and the U.S.-led coalition is providing airstrikes and other support.
But Monday's pause and the continuing danger to troops posed by suicide car bombings and sniper fire underline the difficulty of the campaign — even in eastern Mosul where Iraq's most combat-seasoned troops are operating. Weighing heavily on their battle plans is the safety of some 1 million civilians still residing in Mosul, a sprawling city cut in half by the Tigris.
The resilience of the IS fighters and the reluctance by the Iraqi military and its western backers to use overwhelming firepower to avoid civilian casualties are reflected in the slow pace with which the campaign is progressing. More than a month into the battle for Mosul, the special forces remain some 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Mosul's city center.
Mosul was captured by IS in the summer of 2014 as part of a blitz that placed nearly a third of Iraq under the group's control. Iraqi troops, federal police and allied Shiite and Sunni militias have over the past year pushed IS militants from most of the vast Sunni province of Anbar, west of Baghdad, and areas to the north and east of the Iraqi capital.