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Turkey ties cannot improve without troop pullout: Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on Tuesday relations with northern neighbor Turkey could “not move forward one step” without a withdrawal of Turkish forces from a camp in northern Iraq, state television reported.
Turkish forces have been stationed at Bashiqa camp near Mosul since before the start of an offensive against Daesh.
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces pushed Daesh back further in Mosul on Tuesday in a renewed effort to seize the northern city and deal a decisive blow to the militant group, though progress was slower in some districts, the army said.
Iraqi forces and their allies have captured villages and towns surrounding Mosul and seized at least two-thirds of its eastern districts, military officials say, pushing right up to the eastern bank of the Tigris river in recent days.
But the government had initially hoped to retake Mosul by the end of 2016 and three months into the US-backed campaign, the militants still control all the territory to the west of the Tigris that bisects the city from north to south.
Wounded civilians streamed into nearby hospitals and Iraqi forces blamed Daesh for shooting at fleeing residents and shelling populated areas after losing control of them.
UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said nearly 700 people had been taken to hospitals in Kurdish-controlled areas outside Mosul in the last week and more than 817 had required hospital treatment a week earlier.
“Trauma casualties remain extremely high, particularly near front lines,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Elite forces in the city’s east and northeast have advanced faster since the turn of the year thanks to new tactics and better coordination but there was stiff resistance in the southeast of Mosul, military officials said.
Lt. Col. Abbas Al-Azawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi army’s 16th division, said Iraqi forces entered Hadba on Tuesday, a large northeastern district, though it would likely take more than a day to capture and Daesh was deploying suicide bombers.
Elite Iraqi counter-terrorism service (CTS) units encircled the nearby Sukkar district on Monday and sought to recapture the strategic Mosul University area.
The United Nations has said Daesh seized nuclear material used for scientific research there when the terrorist group overran a third of Iraq in 2014.
The CTS and army units want to capture all the eastern bank of the Tigris so they can launch operations to retake western Mosul. An army statement and the US coalition said Daesh had blown up sections of two bridges linking east and west Mosul in a bid to hamper crossings by Iraqi forces.
Mosul’s five bridges across the Tigris had already been partially damaged by US-led airstrikes to slow the militants’ movement. Coalition spokesman US Air Force Col. John Dorrian told Reuters last week the new damage done by retreating Daesh fighters was “severe” but would not stop the advance.
“Every day the Iraqi Security Forces go forward and every day the enemy goes backward or underground,” he told reporters in Irbil in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Fighting in neighborhoods in the southeast of Mosul has been tougher, however, as Iraqi forces push toward the river.
“The challenge is that they are hiding among civilian families, that’s why our advances are slow and very cautious,” Lt. Col. Abdel Amir Al-Mohammedawi, a spokesman for the rapid response units of Iraq’s federal police, told Reuters.
He said police and army units had fought their way into the Palestine and Sumer districts over the last day but Daesh fighters were firing at civilians trying to flee.
“The families, when they see Iraqi forces coming, flee from the areas controlled by Daesh toward the Iraqi forces, holding up white flags, and Daesh bomb them with mortars and Molotov cocktails, and also shoot at them.
“Whenever they withdraw from a district, they shell it at random, and it’s heavy shelling,” he said.
Dorrian said militant fighters were hiding in mosques, schools and hospitals, using civilians as human shields.