By Maher Chmaytelli and Saif Hameed
BAGHDAD Iraqi forces have captured all of eastern Mosul, dislodging Islamic State militants from the last district they held east of the Tigris river, 100 days after the start of the U.S.-backed campaign, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.Mosul is Islamic State's last major city stronghold in Iraq. "The armed forces succeeded in liberating the left bank of the city of Mosul completely, after inflicting heavy losses in lives and equipment to the enemy," the ministry said in a statement on its website.Mopping up operations were underway to clear a remaining pocket inside Rashidiya, a northeastern suburb of Mosul, said military spokesman Brigadier-General Yahya Rasool in a statement. Iraqi forces launched a campaign on Oct. 17 to retake Mosul from the hardline Sunni group, which captured the city in 2014, declaring from its Grand Mosque a "caliphate" that also spanned parts of Syria, ruled by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.A U.S.-led coalition is providing air and ground support to the Iraqi forces. The western side of Mosul could prove more complicated to take than the eastern as it has many narrow streets that tanks and other large armoured vehicles cannot pass through.
The militants are also expected to put up a tougher fight as they are cornered and the area under their control in the northern Iraqi city continues to shrink.Mosul is the most populated city under control of the militants in both Iraq and Syria, with a pre-war population of nearly 2 million.
About 750,000 people are estimated to live in western Mosul. More than 160,000 have been displaced since the start of the offensive, according to the United Nations. The battle for Mosul, involving 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of the Kurdish security forces and Shi'ite militiamen, is the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Iraqi forces estimated the number of militants inside the city at 5,000 to 6,000 at the start of operations three months ago, of whom 3,300 have been killed in the fighting.The militants blew up a landmark hotel in western Mosul on Friday in an apparent attempt to prevent advancing Iraqi forces from using it as a base or a sniper position when the fighting moves west of the Tigris.
The Mosul Hotel, shaped as a stepped pyramid, stands close to the river.State TV said the army had set up several bridges across the Tigris, south of Mosul, to facilitate the movement of troops in preparation for the offensive on the western side of the city.Mosul's five bridges across the Tigris had been partially damaged by U.S.-led air strikes to slow the militants' movement, before Islamic State blew up two of them. The fall of Mosul would mark the end of the caliphate but the militants are widely expected to mount an insurgency in Iraq and inspire attacks in the West. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2017 23:45:06 IST