JNN 28 Aug 2016 Al-Qayyara, Iraq : The Iraqi Army troops on Saturday took full control of Qayara from Islamic State (ISIS / Daesh / ISIL), a key oil town near Mosul, which has been the main target of Iraqi operations in the north of the country for the past several weeks.
Qayara was reclaimed from the Islamic State (ISIS / Daesh / ISIL) on Thursday but sporadic fighting continued until Saturday with some militants continuing to resist in the town’s outskirts.
The bodies of Islamic State (ISIS / Daesh / ISIL) fighters littered the town, and security forces continued to discover and detonate explosive devices.
Thousands of civilians remain in Qayara, which is located 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Mosul.
The Iraqi Army said it was focusing on restarting public services.
ISIS was trying to decrease the advancing soldiers’ visibility by burning up oil tankers and flooding the air with smoke. But the troops pushed forward despite black apocalyptic skies, street after street of decimated buildings, torn electric cables whipping across the road, and hot searing winds.
Now they’re in the town center and about 60 kilometers from Mosul. By the end of the year, they say, they will liberate Iraq’s second-largest metropolitan area seized by ISIS two years ago.
Since we were last here in April, the Iraqi Army made significant advances in their fight to regain Mosul and the choke-hold around the city is tightening.
Over the last four months, soldiers have methodically toughed it out as they pressed north through villages and towns. At one point, they reached the Tigris River and then dropped a pontoon bridge that ISIS tried but failed to blow up with a boat packed with explosives.
In July, soldiers seized Qayyara airbase, Iraq’s third largest — a major stride. The site — not far from the town of al-Qayyara — is to be a vital staging ground for Iraqi troops with Shia Militias eying Mosul once it is cleared of explosives and the runways are cleaned
Iraqi security forces also managed to recapture the Qayyara oil refinery, said Col. Mohammed Ibrahim, a spokesman for Iraq’s military operations command.
Gen. Najim al-Jobouri, the commander of Iraq’s Nineveh operations, said soldiers now sense a weakening ISIS. Before, he said, most of the ISIS attackers were foreign fighters. Now, they are a mix of foreigners and locals.
“I think that they have a lack of foreign fighters,” he said.
But there is uncertainty too. Al-Jobouri also wondered whether ISIS will unleash more foreign fighters when the anticipated “Battle of Mosul” ensues.
He chatted while standing in the small lawn of a home where a collection of weapons is on display, made in Iraq and Syria for ISIS.
Al-Jobouri’s biggest concern remain Mosul’s civilian population — at least 1 million people remain in the clutches of an organization known to use the civilian population as human shields.
Not far away, people who’ve fled ISIS have fled to a makeshift camp for displaced people — tents set up in the middle of barren land.
Hot desert winds blast across the field. The heat is thick and suffocating. The sand sticks to everything, turning the children’s matted hair shades lighter.
An elderly woman holds a picture of her son killed by ISIS as she clutches her granddaughter’s arm.
We are hustled from tent to tent to see babies, listless and dehydrated. Children don’t remember the last time they showered. And everyone repeats, “we are thirsty.”
There is no clean water out here, only water drawn from a well making everyone sick. There are two toilets for a population of over 1,000. The diet? Beans and lentils twice a day.
Other nearby camps in safe zones are overcrowded, and the offensive into the city of Mosul has yet to begin.
Around $284 million was allocated during a flash appeal last month. But money needs to be released immediately, not just when a mass displacement happens and the crisis reaches unmanageable levels.
The need is already painfully evident. All along the various front lines as forces move forward, residents flood out from whichever point they can find.