- Title: Church bells peal in town retaken by Iraqi troops from Islamic State
- Date: 21st October 2016
- Summary: BARTELLA, IRAQ (OCTOBER 21, 2016) (REUTERS) HEAVY SMOKE RISING FROM THE SITE OF AN EXPLOSION VARIOUS OF MEMBERS OF IRAQI COUNTER TERRORISM SERVICE (CTS) IN BARTELLA VARIOUS OF SOLDIERS STANDING NEAR CTS VEHICLE ARMOURED VEHICLE DRIVING ALONG THE STREET HOUSES IN THE CITY OF BARTELLA IRAQI FORCES IN THE STREET PEOPLE AND SOLDIERS OUTSIDE THE VIRGIN MARY CHURCH VARIOUS OF IRAQI SOLDIERS CARRYING THE IRAQI FLAG ON THE ROOF OF THE CHURCH VARIOUS OF GRAFFITI IN THE CHURCH READING (Arabic): "THE ISLAMIC CALIPHATE" VARIOUS OF COUNTER TERRORISM SERVICES WALKING THROUGH THE CHURCH HEAVY SMOKE RISING FROM A LOCATION NEAR THE CITY EXTERIOR OF THE VIRGIN MARY CHURCH CHURCH TOWER / BELLS RINGING DAMAGED ENTRANCE TO THE CHURCH CHARRED STRUCTURES INSIDE THE CHURCH DESTROYED STATUE IN THE CHURCH GRAFFITI READING (Arabic): "THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD, THAT IS HIGHER THAN THE CROSS" DAMAGE CAUSED TO THE CHURCH VARIOUS OF THE DAMAGED INTERIOR OF THE CHURCH DAMAGE CAUSED TO THE ALTAR AND BURNED BIBLES ON THE FLOOR CTS SOLDIERS WALKING THROUGH THE CHURCH COUNTER TERRORISM SERVICES VEHICLE IN THE CITY (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) LIEUTENANT-COLONEL, MUSHTAQ MAJEED, SAYING: "We are now in the centre of the city of Bartella, near the Virgin Mary church. The area has been cleared thank God, we started yesterday and worked for several hours. The second phase is searching homes and any Daesh militants hiding in homes." HOMES IN THE CITY VARIOUS OF COUNTER TERRORISM SERVICES IN THE CITY
- Embargoed: 5th November 2016 18:53
- Location: BARTELLA, IRAQ
- Reuters ID: LVA00154Y9G7B
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:The din of bullets, mortars and bombs in the northern Iraqi town of Bartella was replaced momentarily on Friday (October 21) by a sound not heard there for more than two years: the chime of church bells.
A cautious calm returned to this historic Christian area following its recapture from Islamic State a day earlier as Iraqi forces push west towards Mosul, the militants' last major stronghold in the country.
Bartella, once home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, emptied out in August 2014 when Islamic State took over as part of a lighting blitz across the large swathes of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
Nearby Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian town, remains under militant control, according to a commander in the Peshmerga, which holds nearby ground.
Clouds of smoke were seen billowing from that direction this week, but the source was unclear.
Islamic State has targeted the adherents and religious sites of minority communities in both countries. It issued an ultimatum to Christians: pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Most, including all of Bartella's residents, fled towards the autonomous Kurdish region.
It will be some time before people can return to the town, which witnessed intense fighting on Thursday between Islamic State and troops from the elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) which are spearheading the Mosul offensive along with Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iraq's army and national police.
The road west into Bartella is littered with the remnants of that battle: bullet casings, deactivated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), shrapnel from car bombs and roadside blasts.
The jihadists dispatched more than a dozen vehicle-borne IEDs against govenrment forces in the span of a few hours on Thursday, Iraqi commanders said, but they left many more planted throughout the town's streets and buildings.
CTS spent Friday removing those mines, though some remain in secondary roads and houses.
"We are now in the centre of the city of Bartella, near the Virgin Mary church. The area has been cleared thank God, we started yesterday and worked for several hours. The second phase is searching homes and any Daesh militants hiding in homes," said Lieutenant-Colonel Mushtaq Majeed.
More than 80 jihadists had been killed in the battle, the battle's commander Major General Maan Saadi, with a few likely fleeing deeper into IS-held territory.
Iraqi forces sustained few casualties in the battle, though military officials have refused to provide specific figures. A battalion commander told Reuters two CTS members had been killed.
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