The struggle to liberate Mosul from Islamic State is nearing a conclusion, with with Iraq prime minister Haider al-Abadi announcing that it's a "matter of a few days". His announcement comes even as Iraqi soldiers continue their fight against Islamic State fighters in western Mosul. While Iraqi forces are trying to push into the Bab al-Beed neighbourhood in Mosul's Old City — the last Islamic State stronghold — the operation appears perilous because of the presence of so many civilians.
Our forces are in the alleys of Old Mosul and we will soon announce the liberation of the city and our victory over Daesh there
— Haider Al-Abadi (@HaiderAlAbadi) June 22, 2017
Islamic State has been offering fierce resistance in the Old City, with barrages of mortar fire and a huge number of booby traps slowing the Iraqi advance. Iraqi forces began storming Mosul on Sunday with the hope that this will be the last in the eight-month campaign to seize the Old City. "This is the final chapter", Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, commander of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) elite units spearheading the assault, about the offensive to take Mosul.
Iraqi forces invaded the vicinity of Nuri al-Kabeer Mosque in Mosul on Wednesday. The medieval mosque is where the Islamic State declared their caliphate in 2014. Iraqi News quoted Iraq’s Defence Ministry's war media cell as saying that the forces destroyed a weapons reservoir and killed ten militants near the mosque, where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi delivered a sermon declaring the establishment of the group's rule in Iraq and Syria.
In an attempt to contain Iraqi troops, the Islamic State blew up the mosque on Wednesday. Officials from Iraq and the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition said the destruction of the site was a sign of the group's imminent loss in Mosul. The prime minister termed it as an "official declaration of defeat". However, the Iraqi army insists that the fight for Mosul is far from over. Although the offensive to retake the city began in 2016, Islamic State fighters have managed to hold onto important parts of the city's west side.
Iraqi forces are trying to minimise civilian casualities and therefore, the offensive has been progressing slowly, according to a report in the The New York Times. IS fighters tend to use human shields, booby traps and suicide bombers. "West Mosul is arguably the most complex and dangerous combat urban environment that any force has seen in decades," said colonel Ryan Dillon, the American coalition spokesman for Iraq and Syria.
The Islamic State's force has also been reduced to only a couple of hundred, while estimates say about 250,000-550,000 civilians remain. The Iraq Army believes that there are only about 300 Islamic State fighters in Mosul, down from nearly 6,000 when the battle started.
The fight for Mosul has displaced more than 850,000 people. While Iraqi forces have had periods of swift gains, combat inside the city has largely been grueling and deadly for both security forces and civilians. About 100,000 residents are believed to still be trapped in the Old City. Islamic State fighters are shooting at families trying to flee on foot or by boat across the Tigris River, as part of a tactic to keep civilians as human shields, the UN said in a statement on Friday. It further said that is targeting children to prevent civilians from fleeing. "This just highlights how indiscriminate and catastrophic this war is," said UNICEF's Iraq representative, Peter Hawkins.
"The operation is now about street fighting, while air and artillery strikes will be limited because the area is heavily populated and the buildings are fragile," CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan told Al-Hadath TV in Dubai. The group is also retreating in Syria, mainly in the face of a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition. Its capital there, Raqqa, is being besieged.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Jun 23, 2017 16:09 PM