Iraqi forces edge further into Mosul

Iraqi forces said they had seized ground inside Mosul’s Old City, a district expected to see some of the fiercest clashes in the battle for the militant stronghold. An operation began on February 19 to retake Mosul’s west, the last major Islamic State group urban bastion in the country, which includes the Old City. Iraqi forces have since retaken several neighbourhoods despite bad weather that has hampered air support.
But as they close in on the ancient central district they face particular difficulties. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped under IS rule in the warren of densely populated, narrow streets which restrict the use of large armoured vehicles. Federal police commander Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat said yesterday that Iraqi forces backed by artillery and drones had advanced in the district. “Federal police and Rapid Response units imposed their complete control over the Al-Basha Mosque…and the Bab al-Saray market in the Old City,” he said. The two sites lie on the edge of the district in the heart of Mosul, next to the Tigris river that slices the city in two.
Further west, forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service have pushed into the Al-Rissala and Nablus quarters, senior commander Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi said. “The situation is good,” he said. The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, would be a major setback for IS following months of losses in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Mosul has huge symbolic significance for the group: it was from the Old City’s Al-Nouri mosque that its secretive chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of his “caliphate” in July 2014. Iraqi forces backed by an international US-led coalition launched a vast, long-awaited operation in October to oust the militants from Mosul, completing their recapture of the east in January.
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Iraq forces fight muddy street battle against IS in Mosul

ISIL fighters have launched several fierce counterattacks against Iraqi forces on the eastern outskirts of Mosul city, underscoring the intense battle ahead as government troops and their allies push into densely populated neighbourhoods. An ISIL suicide car bomber targeted Iraqi troops in the city’s eastern Qadisiya neighbourhood early on Saturday, setting off heavy fighting that involved mortar rounds, gunfire, and rocket-propelled grenades. Iraqi officers told the AFP news agency that fighting was also under way in the adjoining Arbajiya area. “The fighting is intense this morning. We’re trying to fortify our positions in Arbajiya before continuing our attack into al-Bakr,” Colonel Muntadhar Salem, of the counterterrorism unit, said.

Mosul offensive : The civilians fleeing the battle lines

Iraqi civilians are said to be enduring dire conditions after fleeing the Mosul area as the army attempts to retake the city from  Islamic State (IS). Some 5,000 people have crossed the border into Syria in the last 10 days, the aid agency Save the Children says. They have arrived at the al-Hol refugee camp where conditions are already reported to be filthy and overcrowded. Up to 1.5 million civilians are thought to still be in Mosul. The whereabouts of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are unknown. Some reports say he is in Mosul; others say he has fled.

Mosul offensive : Tearful reunions after escaping Mosul

Family and friends torn apart by Islamic State and the offensive on Mosul meet after fleeing their homes.
 

White flags of Mosul

Residents fleeing the battle of Mosul display white flags to show they aren’t members of Islamic State.

On the frontlines of Mosul

Iraqi forces try to drive Islamic State from their last major stronghold in the country. Street battles continued with both sides firing mortar rounds and automatic weapons at each other’s positions, while Iraqi troops also responded with artillery. Clashes were most intense in the al-Bakr neighbourhood. Sniper duels played out from rooftops in the mostly residential areas, where the majority of buildings are two stories high. Lieutenant-Colonel Saad Alwan, from Iraq’s counter-terrorism unit, told Al Jazeera the street battles were ferocious. “We’re facing fierce resistance, they’re digging trenches and using car bombs,” Alwan said. More evidence of daunting fortifications emerged on Saturday, with satellite images showing ISIL had set up defences to bog down advancing forces, including rows of concrete barricades, earth berms, and rubble blocking key routes leading to the centre of the city.