Highly trained members of the Iraqi forces have been preventing the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) from using Mosul residents as human shields by rescuing families the group is holding hostage.
In a recent incident in the eastern al-Tamim neighbourhood, soldiers stormed a house to evacuate a family of seven that had been held hostage by ISIL.
Head of household "Abu Shaker", who asked that his real name not be used, told Diyaruna that two ISIL elements had broken into his home at dawn on December 12th.
"Two ISIL terrorists broke into my home and tried to use us as human shields before making use of the house’s rooftop to attack the security forces," he said.
"They held us in one of the rooms," he said. "I was very afraid for my family and tried to calm them down."
"When morning came, the gunfire calmed down and sounded more distant," he said. "All of a sudden, we heard someone inside the house calling, 'Is there anybody here? We are your brothers from the anti-terrorism service; we have killed the terrorists'."
"When we heard that, we screamed for help and the soldiers broke down the door to the room and rescued us," Abu Shaker said.
"We did not think we were going to survive," he said. "We thank God and thank our troops for their bravery."
The strategy of cowards
Taking cover behind families is evidence of ISIL's cowardice and baseness, said Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Tahseen Ibrahim.
"The terrorists have no religion or compassion," he told Diyaruna. "Their only ideology is killing, and nothing but killing."
"They know that our troops respect the rules of engagement and are committed to the protection of civilians based on their national responsibilities and their belief in respecting the human rights addressed by international rules," he said.
ISIL has on more than one occasion tried to drag Iraqi troops into fighting in the most densely populated areas in order to slow their progress, Ibrahim said.
"ISIL has not hesitated to carry out the most brutal suicide attacks in the heart of neighbourhoods, deploy snipers on housetops, and blow up houses, without caring whether or not there were families in them," he said.
"The liberation forces are watching out for all of ISIL’s methods and seeking to ward off the danger for the population and hinder the group's attempts to attack residents and hide behind them," he said.
"Our soldiers have gained extensive experience in urban warfare, rescuing hostages and people being held forcefully, and guiding the population in areas of conflict to safe passages and safe areas," Ibrahim said.
Every day Iraqi troops are rescuing many families and defeating the terrorists, he said, "serving them one defeat after another".
Military progress continues
The Iraqi forces' actions to secure the safety of the population and rescue people who have been trapped has been marked by precision and high skill, Ninawa provincial council member Khalaf al-Hadidi told Diyaruna.
"The terrorists do not care about people’s lives in the combat zones and treat them with violence and brutality," he said. "They have broken into homes and forced families to stay out on the streets and alleys in order to alleviate the strikes against them from the ground and from the air."
Additionally, he said, "ISIL has instructed its elements to target the residents of liberated neighbourhoods in revenge for the support and welcome they have given the security forces".
The group has carried out several suicide attacks in the city and has engaged in indiscriminate mortar shelling, he said.
But military progress continues from all directions, al-Hadidi said.
During the second phase of the "We Are Coming, Ninawa" operation, launched December 29th, the liberation forces have managed to fend off the sources of fire targeting the population and combat infiltration by ISIL, he said.
Iraqi forces have so far managed to take control of most neighbourhoods on Mosul’s left side , most recently Somer and al-Saherun.
Protecting civilian lives
"The presence of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in Mosul is the greatest challenge in the battle to liberate the city," said Ninawa provincial council security committee member Sheikh Binyan al-Jarba.
"Since day one of the battle, ISIL has played the population card in order to delay its end, and has been forcefully holding residents and hiding behind them," he told Diyaruna.
The group has attacked civilians in suicide operations, blown up improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as they passed by, or bombed their houses, he said.
"The security forces always have been careful in their advance and freed hundreds of families that had been held captive in quality, bold operations," al-Jarba said.
Despite these challenges, Iraqi forces have managed a steady advance, he added.
Iraqi forces are currently fighting to consolidate security in liberated areas and enable government and humanitarian agencies to provide services to the population, he said. "ISIL is losing everything and victory is in sight."