BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces have recaptured nearly 90 percent of west Mosul from the Islamic State group and jihadists in the city are on the “brink of total defeat,” military spokesmen said Tuesday.
Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul from IS nearly seven months ago, fighting their way to the jihadist-held city, retaking its eastern side and then attacking the west.
Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, told a news conference in Baghdad that IS now controls just over 10 percent of west Mosul.
Colonel John Dorrian, the spokesman for the US-led international coalition against IS, said that the end was near for jihadists in the city.
“The enemy is completely surrounded,” Dorrian told the news conference. “The enemy is on the brink of total defeat in Mosul.”
The drive to retake Mosul has been supported by a campaign of coalition air strikes in and around the city.
“More than 300 vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (car bombs) have been destroyed by coalition strikes in Mosul,” Dorrian said.
“Our strikes have also destroyed more than 200 Daesh tunnels and more than 1,000 of their fighting positions,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
The jihadist group now controls just a handful of neighbourhoods around the Old City, one of the country’s heritage jewels.
The area’s narrow streets and closely spaced buildings make it difficult for federal forces to take on the jihadists, requiring them to fight on foot instead of from vehicles as they have previously done.
Half a million people are currently displaced as a result of the battle for Mosul, and some 250,000 civilians are estimated to still be trapped inside the city’s west.
The number of those fleeing has been on the rise, with Thursday seeing around 20,000 people fleeing west Mosul, the Norwegian Refugee Council said, in the biggest single-day displacement since the start of the operation.
The presence of a large civilian population, which either chose not to leave or was prevented from doing so by IS, complicates any final assault to seal victory in Mosul.
While coalition air strikes have aided the advance of Iraqi forces, they have also reportedly caused hundreds of civilian casualties in the city.
Human shields have become a central feature of the vastly outnumbered jihadists’ defences, and IS has stopped at nothing to deter people from escaping the city, including killing people who seek to flee.
Trapped residents reached by AFP inside IS-held areas have also recently warned that hunger was starting to kill more people than the fighting.
In eastern Mosul, life returned to a semblance of normality fairly quickly after Iraqi forces drove the jihadists back neighbourhood by neighbourhood until the area was fully recaptured earlier this year.
IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since retaken much of the territory they lost to the jihadists. – afp
Story first published: 16th May 2017