MOSUL, Iraq/BAGHDAD - Iraqi forces
battling Islamic State in Mosul edged into
the Old City and around the al Nuri mosque
on Friday trying to seal off a main road to
prevent militants sending in suicide bombers
to attack their positions.
Troops are meeting fierce resistance as
militants retreat into the Old City, where
street fighting is expected in the narrow
alleyways and around the mosque where
Islamic State declared its caliphate nearly
three years ago.
A helicopter fired rockets into the area
and heavy gunfire and mortar blasts echoed
as troops made forays in districts near the
Nuri mosque, where Islamic State's black
jihadist flag hangs from its leaning
"Federal police and rapid response forces
completely control the al-Basha mosque, al-Adala
street and Bab al-Saray market inside the
Old City," a federal police spokesman said.
"Forces are trying to isolate the Old City
area from all sides and then start an
offensive from all sides."
Five months into the campaign to liberate
Mosul, Islamic State's last major stronghold
in the country, Iraqi forces backed by
U.S.-led coalition air strikes have retaken
the eastern half of the city and about half
of the western side across the Tigris river.
Losing Mosul would be a huge blow to
Islamic State. It has served as the group's
de facto capital since its leader Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi announced his self-declared
caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria from the
Nuri Mosque in July 2014.
Troops were trying to besiege the Old
City and cut off a street leading out to
prevent Islamic State dispatching the
armored suicide car and truck bombs that
have been targeting army positions inside
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber in an
armored digger truck penetrated Iraqi forces
lines, smashing through vehicles and
barricades before detonating a blast that
destroyed vehicles including Iraqi U.S.-made
"A bulldozer packed with a large amount
of explosives managed to reach our troops
near the museum using the Old City side
roads, we lost an Abrahams tank, three
Humvees and four soldiers," a spokesman for
the rapid reaction forces said.
An attack on Thursday was stopped when
the vehicle was hit by a rocket in the Bab
Tob old market area before it could approach
federal police and other units, the rapid
response force official said.
Islamic State forces swept in to control
a third of Iraq when the army abandoned its
positions and fled two years ago. The Iraqi
government says its security forces have
since been rebuilt and have proven
themselves in battle, recapturing lost
A U.S.-led coalition has been providing
air strike support, intelligence and
advisers on the ground. The Mosul battle has
put U.S. troops in a more visible role than
at any time since they began to withdraw
from Iraq in 2011. Former President Barack
Obama sent thousands back as advisers.
U.S. officials have estimated that around
2,000 fighters remain inside the city. But
there are risks militants will return to the
kind of guerrilla warfare and bombings they
have used in the past against the capital
and other cities.
Just north of Baghdad, a Sunni militia
leader was killed along with two members of
his family and two guards on Friday when
gunmen, including suicide attackers, broke
into his house, police and army sources
Lateef al-Jari, local leader of Sunni
brigade in the small Sunni town of Mishahda,
was killed in the attack, which security
sources blamed on Islamic State.
Residents are streaming out of western
Mosul neighborhoods recaptured by the
government, many hungry and traumatized by
living under Islamic State's rule. Many say
food is running short and security is
fragile even in liberated areas.
As many as 600,000 civilians are caught
with the militants inside Mosul, which Iraqi
forces sealed off from the remaining
territory that Islamic State controls in
Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi forces include
army, special forces, Kurdish peshmerga and
Around 255,000 people have been displaced
from Mosul and surrounding areas since
October, including more than 100,000 since
the latest military campaign in western
Mosul began on Feb. 19, United Nations
The last week has seen the highest level
of displacement yet, with 32,000 displaced
between March 12 and 15.