Iraq security forces take Mosul’s main government complex, museum building

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Elite Iraqi security forces dislodged Islamic State militants from the main government buildings in Mosul on Tuesday, their last major city stronghold in Iraq, an Iraqi spokesman said.

Mosul’s main museum, which was damaged and looted by the militants, was also taken, Lieutenant Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammadawi, a spokesman for the elite interior ministry Rapid Response units told Reuters.

A special Rapid Response team stormed the Nineveh governorate building and the surrounding government complex in an overnight raid that lasted about an hour, he said.
“They killed tens from Daesh,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group by one of its Arabic acronyms.

Seizing the government complex would help Iraqi forces attack the militants in the nearby old city centre and mark a symbolic step towards restoring state authority over Mosul, even though the buildings are destroyed and not being used by Islamic State.

The battle for Mosul, which started on Oct. 17, will now enter a more complicated phase in the densely populated old city where, the Iraqi military believes, several thousand militants are among the remaining civilian population.

It was from the grand al-Nuri Mosque in the old city that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared in 2014 a “caliphate” spanning parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

The old city lies on the western bank of the Tigris river that cuts Mosul in two halves. About 750,000 people were estimated by aid organizations to live in west Mosul when the offensive started on this side of the city on Feb. 19.

The Iraqi forces took the eastern half of the city in January, after 100 days of fighting.

A U.S.-led coalition is providing key air and ground support to the offensive in Iraq’s second-largest city.

A U.S. general in the international coalition in Iraq says that Islamic State forces defending western Mosul are disorganised and some foreign fighters are trying to leave the city.

Government forces nontheless face a “very hard fight” in the battle for the city but they will prevail, U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Matthew Isler said.

Isler said Islamic State’s operational leaders and foreign fighters were withdrawing from the battlefield, leaving local militants to fend off advances by Iraqi forces.
“We do see an intent for them to leave the city. I think that many of them are going to try to find a way out.”

Though vastly outnumbered, the militants are putting up fierce resistance to hold on to their last major stronghold.
“At the tactical level it is a very hard fight,” said Isler, deputy commander for the coalition’s air forces.

But, he said: “They’re not well-organised and well-integrated and as a result of that, Iraqi security forces are able to make significant progress each day.”

Many of Islamic State’s operational leaders were killed before Iraqi forces began attacking the west, Isler said. There was little doubt that Iraqi security forces would eventually prevail against Islamic State.
“The game is up,” Isler said. “They have lost this fight and what you’re seeing is a delaying action.”

Many of Islamic State’s operational leaders were killed before Iraqi forces began attacking the west, Isler said.

Although Iraqi forces have effectively isolated Mosul by cutting the city off from the rest of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria, Isler said the militants were still able to travel to the town of Tel Afar to the west.
“We took out their command and control, the Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and weapons caches. They’re using more indirect fire. It’s not precise.”

Although Islamic State car bombs still pose a major threat, Isler said fewer than one in 10 now reached their target.

Isler was speaking at the Qayyarah West Airfield, also known as “Q-West”, which Islamic State overran in the summer of 2014 after taking Mosul.

Coalition advisers have become more visible near the frontlines since December, when Iraqi forces entered an “operational refit” after progress in the east slowed.

Before that, coalition advisers were working with Iraqi forces at the division level, whereas now they are embedded at the brigade level making tactical decisions, Isler said.
“Forty miles north, you are witnessing the defeat of Daesh,” said Isler, standing on a runway to which Islamic State militants took a jackhammer before being driven out by Iraqi forces last year.

The repaired main runway is now used by the coalition to resupply its troops in the field and by the Iraqi air force, which is flying no less than 50 sorties per day.

On one of the blast walls enclosing the airfield, the words “The State of the Caliphate will remain” are still visible despite being crossed out. More recent graffiti daubed by the base’s American residents reads: “Make Mosul Great Again”.