MOSUL, Iraq -- Iraqi forces battled waves of suicide car bombs on Sunday as they attempt to advance deeper into Mosul in the face of heavy resistance from the Islamic State group.
Troops are converging from several fronts on the city, Iraq's second-largest and the extremists' last major holdout in the country. The special forces have advanced the furthest so far, and hold a handful of urban districts.
Officers say they have cleared the neighborhoods of Qadisiya and Zahra, and are planning to advance further in the coming hours. Over the past week they have inched forward slowly, trying to avoid casualties among their troops and civilians as suicide bombers in armor-plated vehicles rush forward from hiding spots among densely populated areas.
"The only weapons they have left are car bombs and explosives," said Iraqi special forces Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi as he radioed with commanders in the field. "There are so many civilian cars and any one of them could be a bomb," he said.
Several suicide car bombers attacked in the same area on Saturday, wounding around a dozen troops, three civilians, and killing a child, officers said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to brief reporters.
The troops are building berms and road blocks to prevent car bombs from breaching the front lines. Since last week's quick advance into Mosul proper, they have struggled to hold territory under heavy IS counterattacks.
The Iraqi armed forces do not release official casualty figures, but field medics have noted dozens of killed and wounded since the operation to liberate the city began on Oct. 17.
Meanwhile, a leading U.S.-based rights group released a report alleging that security forces of Iraq's regional Kurdish government had routinely destroyed Arab homes and even some whole villages in areas retaken from the Islamic State group over the past two years.
The Human Rights Watch report says that between September 2014 and May 2016, Kurdish forces advancing against IS destroyed Arab homes in disputed areas of Kirkuk and Ninevah provinces, while Kurdish homes were left intact. It says the demolitions took place in disputed areas in northern Iraq which the Kurds want to incorporate into their autonomous region over the objections of the central government.
Sunni Arab politicians have previously accused the Kurds of seeking to recast the demographics of mixed areas in northern Iraq. The struggle is particularly intense in the oil-rich Kirkuk region.
"In village after village in Kirkuk and Ninevah, KRG security forces destroyed Arab homes — but not those belonging to Kurds — for no legitimate military purpose," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "KRG leaders' political goals don't justify demolishing homes illegally."
All sides fighting in the battle for Mosul have been accused of human rights abuses, with the worst allegations focusing on IS.
Kurdish forces have been accused of destroying Arab homes before, with a report last year by Amnesty International alleging that the peshmerga carried out the attacks in retaliation for what they said was the Arab communities' support for IS.
Kurdish authorities say they abide by human rights laws and deny having any strategy to destroy homes. But they say some villages in which the population fought alongside IS have suffered extensive destruction because of the ferocity of the battles.
Kurdish officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the fresh allegations.
Rohan reported from Baghdad.
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