Iraqi forces announce capture of key Mosul bridge

US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul’s al Hurriya bridge that leads to the ISIL-held city centre from the south, a military media officer said, in a new push to drive out the fighters.

The bridge is the second to be reclaimed by Iraqi troops in Mosul after the first was secured in the south during the offensive on western Mosul launched on February 19.

All of Mosul’s five bridges over the River Tigris have been destroyed in the fighting but their recapture and repair would aid in the government’s fight against the group, which remains in the north.

As fighting intensifies, 10,000 civilians flee Iraq’s Mosul daily

“We control the western end of the bridge,” the Rapid Response officer told Reuters News Agency.

The Counter-Terrorism Service and Rapid Response are two special forces units that have led operations in the Mosul area, while the federal police are a paramilitary police unit.

The capture of the bridge on Monday came a day after Iraqi forces launched the new push towards the city’s old centre, from the western side of the Tigris.

In a fight marked by explosions and open fire, residents of western Mosul fled in thousands as smoke rose over the city.

The operation in Mosul was officially launched in October last year. In January, its eastern half was declared “fully liberated”.

In the Kurdish city of Erbil, Iraqi forces have said to forcibly displace at least 125 families with alleged links to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL also known as ISIS), Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.

The families have been moved to a camp near Tikrit.

“We came here with only the clothes we had on us,” one of the affected woman said. “They beat us and dragged us [from our home].”

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According to the report, Sunni tribal goups, together with Iraqi soldiers, in the Salah al-Din governorate forced the families out and destroyed the houses following a council order stating that anyone proved to have been “complicit or affiliated with ISIS” has no right to return to the governorate.

“While politicians in Baghdad are discussing reconciliation efforts in Iraq, the state’s own forces are undermining those efforts by destroying homes and forcing families into a detention camp,” said Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director.

“These families, accused of wrongdoing by association, are in many cases themselves victims of ISIS abuses and should be protected by government forces, not targeted for retribution.”

More than 200,000 displaced

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a Switzerland-based NGO, more than 45,000 people fled their homes in western Mosul since the beginning of the push.

IOM’s figures indicate that more than 200,000 have been displaced as a result of the offensive.

More than 17,000 people arrived from west Mosul on February 28 alone, while over 13,000 came on March 3, according to the IOM.

On Saturday, a senior Iraqi government official publicly criticised UN-led efforts to aid those displaced by the west Mosul fighting, while the UN said that such assistance is the “top priority”.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Khazir, east of Mosul, said: “What’s striking is how many have arrived here [in the camp for internally displaced people] with no shoes.”

“Iraqi authorities say an average of 10,000 people are leaving every day,” she added. “Everyone we’ve spoken to here is telling us an unimaginable story.”

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Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies