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Inside the fight to free Mosul

ISIS has held Iraq's second largest city under siege for more than 2 years

ISIS fighters are now on the defensive, two years after they stunned the world with their lightning-fast assault on Iraq's second-largest city. For the people of Mosul, work dried up and basic human rights were erased under the brutal control of the Islamic State, which proclaimed its caliphate here in 2014.

The eastern side of Mosul was liberated in January, the result of a fierce military campaign involving thousands of Iraqi and coalition forces that began last fall. They continue to face stiff resistance in the push to chase ISIS out of western Mosul.

CBC, which is one of only a handful of international news organizations to have gotten this close to the fighting, has been reporting from the Iraqi city all week.

Here, Iraqi soldiers run for cover after ISIS fighters launch a counterattack on Wednesday near the front line in western Mosul. ​

mosul 5
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)
 

The ground shakes

The Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition have relied heavily on their air superiority. At times, the sound of fighter jets and attack helicopters reverberates across the western side of the city.

On the ground, Iraqi soldiers provide co-ordination for the coalition in advance of an airstrike, like this one that targeted an ISIS position. 

mosul 6
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Pushing forward

Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shia militias have been involved in the military operation, which was launched in October 2016

Members of the Diyala brigade of the Iraqi elite special forces prepare to enter a Mosul neighbourhood to flush out ISIS fighters and check for booby traps left behind. 

mosul 3
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Bloody battle

ISIS snipers, often waiting in high positions such as mosque minarets, pose a real challenge to the Iraqi side. The jihadists also attack the Iraqis with car bombs and suicide bomb attacks.

An Iraqi soldier who was shot through the leg is helped to a military Humvee, which will take him to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.

mosul 4
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)

 

Hearts and minds

Humanitarian needs are not forgotten, even amid the military offensive. Soldiers are instructed to have warm relations with the Mosul residents they meet during their patrols, in an effort to show the civilian population that the army is looking out for their best interests.

Here, a young Iraqi boy enjoys some sweets given to him by Iraqi soldiers in a newly liberated neighbourhood of Mosul. 

mosul 8
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Stiff resistance

Iraqi security forces have discovered improvised explosive devices and unused ammunition in buildings the militants have abandoned.

An Iraqi soldier shows off an anti-tank guided missile in what appears to have been an ISIS weapons cache in western Mosul.

mosul 7
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)

 

War takes its toll

More than four months of war has left parts of Mosul deeply scarred. Neighbourhood markets lie in ruins, while many key intersections have been destroyed by coalition airstrikes.

 

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'Source of pride'

Soldiers from across Iraq have been called up to join in the battle of Mosul, viewing it as a chance to restore the image of the Iraqi armed forces, which abandoned the fight when ISIS stormed the city just over two years ago.

For 25-year-old Sgt. Gaith Rafid, a bomb disposal expert with the Diyala brigade, liberating Mosul "is a huge source of pride. I fight with my country's flag on my shoulder."

 

mosul 2
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Fighting and fleeing

The United Nations estimates that more than 215,000 civilians have fled the city since the second phase of the military operation got underway in late February.

This mother and her baby wait in an army Humvee after Iraqi soldiers said they would take the family to safety.

mosul 1
(Derek Stoffel/CBC)

 

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