Iraqi forces have pushed towards the river side of Mosul’s Old City, their key target in the eight-month campaign to capture Islamic State’s de-facto capital, and Iraq’s prime minister predicted victory very soon.
Iraqi forces, battling up to 350 militants dug in among civilians in the Old City, said that federal police had dislodged Isil insurgents from the Ziwani mosque and were only a few days away from ousting militants completely from the Old City.
“The victory announcement will come in a very short time,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.
Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), told reporters near the frontline: “The operation is continuing to free the remaining parts of the Old City.”
Iraqi forces had about 600 metres left to cover before they reached Cornishe Street, alongside the western bank of the Tigris, Federal Police commander Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat told Iraqi state TV.
“In a few days, our forces will reach Cornishe Street and bring the battle to its conclusion,” said Lt Gen Jawdat. He added that federal police had forced militants out of the Ziwani mosque in the Old City’s south-western corner.
The fall of Mosul would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate” proclaimed by Isil, although the militant group remains in control of large areas of both Iraq and Syria. In Syria, the Isil-held city of Raqqa is nearly encircled by a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition.
Federal police and elite CTS units in Mosul have been attacking Isil fighters in the Old City’s maze of narrow alleyways, together with the army and the interior ministry’s Emergency Response Division.
Up to 350 militants are estimated by the Iraqi military to be dug in there among civilians in wrecked houses and crumbling infrastructure.
They were making extensive use of booby traps, suicide bombers and sniper fire to slow the advance of Iraqi forces.
Those residents who have escaped said that many of the civilians trapped behind Isil lines – a figure put at 50,000 by the Iraqi military – were 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.