Iraq forces push towards river side of Mosul’s Old City, as PM says victory is near
MOSUL // Iraqi forces on Tuesday pushed towards the river side of Mosul’s Old City, the last major hurdle of their eight-month campaign, as Iraq’s prime minister predicted victory very soon.
Iraqi forces, battling up to 350 ISIL fighters dug in among civilians in the Old City, said federal police had dislodged some of the militants from a mosque there and were only a few days away from ousting the group completely from the Old City.
“The victory announcement will come in a very short time,” prime minister Haider Al Abadi said on his website on Monday.
“The operation is continuing to free the remaining parts of the Old City,” Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab Al Saadi of the Counter Terrorism Service said near the frontline in the heart of the Old City.
Iraqi forces had about 600 metres left to cover before reaching Mosul’s Corniche road along the western bank of the Tigris, said federal police commander Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat.
“In a few days our forces will reach Corniche and bring the battle to its conclusion,” said Lt Gen Jawdat, adding that police had forced militants out of the Ziwani mosque in the southwestern corner of the Old City.
The Iraqi army and interior ministry units are also battling ISIL fighters in the Old City’s maze of narrow alleyways.
A military statement said the army’s 16th infantry division had captured Al Mashahda quarter in the northwestern corner of the Old City.
Up to 350 ISIL fighters are estimated by the Iraqi military to be dug in among civilians in wrecked houses and crumbling infrastructure. They are trying to slow the advance of Iraqi forces by laying booby traps and using suicide bombers and snipers.
Those residents who have escaped say many of the civilians trapped behind ISIL lines — put at 50,000 by the Iraqi military — are in a desperate situation with little food, water or medicines.
A US-led international coalition is providing air and ground support in the eight-month-old offensive.
The Iraqi government once hoped to take Mosul by the end of 2016, but fighting has dragged on as militants have reinforced positions in civilian areas, using residents as human shields.
Hundreds of civilians who managed to escape as Iraqi forces advanced into the Old City gathered on the side of the road at the edge of western Mosul on Tuesday.
But hundreds of other civilians have been killed in the past month as they tried to flee the Old City.
The militants last week destroyed the historic Grand Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret from where ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared the group’s so-called caliphate three years ago. The mosque’s grounds remain under the militants’ control.
Iraqi troops on Monday captured Al Faruq quarter, facing the mosque, the military said.
Only a handful of districts remained to be cleared on Tuesday, Lt Gen Al Saadi said, standing atop a rooftop overlooking Al Faruq street which now marks the frontline, a few dozen metres from the old mosque.
Sporadic sniper fire could be heard, and an incoming rocket, as the troops used a drone to survey the extremists’ defences.