The battle to take full control of Mosul from Islamic State will be over in a few days and an attempted fight-back by the militants failed, an Iraqi general told Reuters on Monday.
“Only a small part remains in the city, specifically the Old City,” said Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, commander of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) elite units in Mosul.
“From a military perspective, Daesh (Islamic State) is finished,” Assadi said. “It lost its fighting spirit and its balance, we are making calls to them to surrender or die.”
The area now under Islamic State control in Mosul, once the militant group’s de facto capital in Iraq, is less than 2 sq kms, the Iraqi military said.
An attempt by Islamic State militants late on Sunday to return to neighbourhoods outside the Old City failed, Assadi said, adding the city would fall “in very few days, God willing”.
The CTS is leading the fight in the densely populated maze of narrow alleyways of the historic Old City which lies by the western bank of the Tigris river.
A U.S.-led international coalition is providing air and ground support in the eight-month-old offensive. [nL8N19K5AR]
The militants last week destroyed the historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret from which their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria three years ago. The mosque’s grounds remain under the militants’ control.
Iraqi troops captured the neighbourhood of al-Faruq in the northwestern side of the Old City facing the mosque, the military said on Monday.
Iraqi forces took the eastern side of Mosul from Islamic State in January, after 100 days of fighting, and started attacking the western side in February.
Up to 350 militants are estimated by the Iraqi military to be besieged in the Old City, dug in among civilians in crumbling houses and making extensive use of booby traps, suicide bombers and sniper fire to slow down the troops’ advance.
Assadi said Iraqi forces had linked up along al-Faruq, a main street bisecting the Old City, and would start pushing east, towards the river. “It will be the final episode,” he said.
More than 50,000 civilians, about half the Old City’s population, remain trapped behind Islamic State lines with little food, water or medicines, according to those who escaped.
Aid organizations say Islamic State has stopped many from leaving, using them as human shields. Hundreds of civilians fleeing the Old City have been killed in the past three weeks.
Islamic State has carried out sporadic suicide bombings in parts of Mosul using sleeper cells. It launched a wave of such attacks late on Sunday, trying to take control of a district west of the Old City, Hay al-Tanak, and the nearby Yarmuk neighbourhood.
Social media carried posts showing black smoke and reports that it came from houses and cars set alight by the militants. Witnesses said residents had fled the two neighbourhoods.
Assadi said the attempt to take over the neighbourhoods had failed and the militants were now besieged in one or two pockets of Hay al-Tanak. A curfew was in force over western Mosul, a Reuters correspondent reported.
The fall of Mosul would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate”, but Islamic State remains in control of large areas of both Iraq and Syria.
Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and has been assumed to be hiding in the Iraqi-Syrian border area. There has been no confirmation of Russian reports over the past days that he has been killed.
In Syria, the insurgents’ “capital” Raqqa, is nearly encircled by a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led coalition.