Iraqi forces ‘make further gains’ against ISIL in Mosul
Army commanders say areas west of the Old City have been recaptured and a senior ISIL operative was killed.
Iraqi forces have retaken two more neighbourhoods in western Mosul, military commanders have said, as fighting intensifies amid a US-backed offensive to recapture ISIL‘s last urban stronghold in the country.
“The forces completed the liberation of al-Thawra neighbourhood,” Sabah al-Noman, spokesman for the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, told AFP news agency on Thursday.
An officer with federal police forces also deployed in west Mosul confirmed that the neighbourhood, which lies just west of the Old City, had been retaken from ISIL.
The Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against the group nationwide said the Nasr neighbourhood was also retaken on Thursday.
The head of Iraq’s federal police, Raed Shakir Jawdat, said in a statement that Iraqi forces had killed a senior ISIL operative, who had been in charge of chemical weapons for the group in Mosul, in a guided-missile strike in the Zanjili neighbourhood.
Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel Ziad Tariq al-Babali told Anadolu news agency that US-led coalition fighter jets had carried out air raids in western Mosul’s al-Rifai district, killing at least 17 fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group and wounding nine others.
READ MORE: ISIL kills dozens of civilians fleeing Mosul: witnesses
The largest city in northern Iraq, Mosul was captured by ISIL in mid-2014.
Backed by the US-led coalition, a coalition of Iraqi forces launched a huge operation, their largest in years, in mid-October last year to retake Mosul.
They retook the side of the city that lies east of the River Tigris in January and launched a push on remaining ISIL fighters in western Mosul, which is more densely populated and has seen fierce fighting.
On the west bank, Iraqi forces control southern neighbourhoods and are slowly surrounding the Old City, whose narrow streets are expected to make federal operations very difficult.
Residents who managed to escape from the Old City say that there is almost nothing to eat but flour mixed with water and boiled wheat grain.
OPINION: The human shields of Mosul
The loss of Mosul would be a death blow to the “caliphate”, ISIL proclaimed after capturing the city in a massive offensive in June 2014.
According to an Iraqi military spokesman, the group only controls 7 percent of Iraq, down from the 40 percent of the national territory over which it ruled three years ago.
The only two other significant towns ISIL still holds are Hawija and Tal Afar. The group also controls territory in remote areas of western Iraq, near the Syrian border.
Iraqi forces on Thursday launched a fresh push against ISIL-held villages there, as part of a months-old operation to retake areas along the Euphrates in western Anbar province.
A senior officer said that the forces involved in the operation included the army, local tribal fighters and military advisers from the US-led coalition.
Fighting has killed several thousand civilians and fighters on both sides, according to aid organisations.