MOSUL • Iraqi forces yesterday pushed towards the riverside of Mosul's Old City, their key target in the eight-month campaign to capture the de facto capital of terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Iraq's Prime Minister predicted victory soon.
Iraqi forces, battling up to 350 militants dug in among civilians in the Old City, said the federal police had dislodged ISIS insurgents from the Ziwani mosque and were only a few days away from ousting militants completely from the Old City.
"The victory announcement will come in a very short time," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on his website on Monday evening.
"The operation is continuing to free the remaining parts of the Old City," Lieutenant-General Abdul- Wahab Al-Saadi of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) told a Reuters correspondent near the front line in the heart of the Old City.
Iraqi forces have about 600m left to cover before they reach Cornishe Street alongside the western bank of the Tigris, federal police commander Lieutenant-General Raed Shaker Jawdat told Iraqi State TV. "In a few days, our forces will reach Cornishe Street and bring the battle to its conclusion," said Lt-Gen Jawdat, adding that the federal police had forced militants out of Ziwani mosque in the Old City's south-western corner.
The fall of Mosul would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the "caliphate" proclaimed by ISIS though the militant group remains in control of large areas of both Iraq and Syria.
In Syria, the ISIS-held city of Raqqa is nearly encircled by a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed Syrian coalition of Kurdish and Arab groups, on Sunday took the Al-Qadisia district that is located in the west of Raqqa, after three days of intense fighting.
Federal police and elite CTS units in Mosul are attacking ISIS fighters in the Old City's maze of alleyways, together with the army and the Interior Ministry's Emergency Response Division.
Up to 350 militants are said to be dug in there among civilians in wrecked houses and crumbling infrastructure. They were making extensive use of booby traps, suicide bombers and sniper fire to slow the advance of Iraqi forces.
Those residents who have escaped say many of the civilians trapped behind ISIS lines - put at 50,000 by the Iraqi military - have little food, water or medicine.
A United States-led international coalition is providing air and ground support in the eight- month-old offensive.
The Iraqi government had once hoped to take Mosul by the end of last year, but the fighting has dragged on as the militants reinforced positions in civilian areas, effectively using the residents as human shields. Hundreds of civilians fleeing the Old City have been killed in the past month.
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.