Battle for Mosul enters 'final episode'

Iraqi forces advancing through Mosul's Old City on Sunday, as part of the ongoing offensive to retake the last district held by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.
Iraqi forces advancing through Mosul's Old City on Sunday, as part of the ongoing offensive to retake the last district held by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MOSUL (Iraq) • The battle to take full control of Mosul from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will be over in a few days, with an attempted counter-attack by the Islamist militants ending in failure, an Iraqi general said yesterday.

"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 is finished," Lt-Gen Assadi said, using an Arabic term for ISIS. "It lost its fighting spirit. We are making calls to them to surrender or die."

The area now under ISIS control in Mosul, once the militant group's de facto capital in Iraq, is less than 2 sq km, the Iraqi military said.

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.

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.

Lt-Gen 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.

ISIS launched a wave of attacks late on Sunday, trying to take control of a district west of the Old City, Hay al-Tanak, and the nearby Yarmuk neighbourhood.

The attackers had infiltrated the area by blending in with returning displaced civilians. Lt-Gen 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.

Meanwhile, US-backed fighters have seized a quarter of Syria's Raqqa from ISIS, a monitor said yesterday, less than three weeks after they first entered the northern city.

Arab and Kurdish militia from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) smashed into the Islamists' main Syrian bastion on June 6 after a months-long drive to encircle it.

"Since the offensive began, the SDF have captured around 25 per cent of the city's built-up neighbourhoods," Mr Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said yesterday.

Backed by US-led coalition air strikes, the SDF has fully seized the south-eastern districts of Al-Meshleb and Al-Senaa, as well as Al-Rumaniya and Sabahiya in the west, he said. From those neighbourhoods, they were bearing down on Raqqa's Old City in a pincer movement yesterday, with fighting raging in the western Al-Qadisiya district and parts of the city's east.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'Battle for Mosul enters 'final episode''. Print Edition | Subscribe