Black IS flag hangs from mosque's minaret
MOSUL - Elite Iraqi forces said they were
battling house by house in the Old City of
Mosul on Saturday, inching towards the
mosque where the Islamic State group
proclaimed its "caliphate" in 2014.
Iraq began an operation on February 19 to
retake west Mosul, which is the last major
Islamic State group urban bastion in the
country and includes the Old City.
Commanders said that progress in the
densely populated warren of alleyways was
slow, but that government forces had made
new gains from IS in the ancient central
"Our forces are 800 metres (yards) from
the mosque," said Captain Firas al-Zuwaidi,
spokesman for the interior ministry's elite
Rapid Response Force.
He was referring to the Al-Nuri Mosque,
where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
declared the cross-border "caliphate"
spanning jihadist-controlled territory in
Iraq and Syria in his sole public appearance
in July 2014.
"We are encountering difficulties -- bad
weather and streets too narrow for our
military vehicles which cannot enter,"
"The fighting is street by street, house
by house," he said, as the sound of mortar
fire rang out from the heart of Iraq's
The battle for the Old City was always
expected to be the toughest of the campaign
to retake Mosul from IS, further complicated
by the presence of hundreds of thousands of
civilians believed to have stayed on under
- 'Hump of western operations' -
Iraqi forces in January retook the east
of the city, which is divided by the Tigris
River, before setting their sights on its
smaller but more densely populated west
The Old City lies at the heart of west
Emily Anagnostos, an analyst from the
Institute for the Study of War think tank,
said the current phase of the operation was
a delicate one.
"This stage is the hump of western
operations that the ISF (Iraqi security
forces) needs to get over without incurring
significant ISF or civilian casualties," she
"ISIS resistance is tough in this area,
the streets are too narrow for large
vehicles, and the weather is poor. ISIS is
exploiting these factors as part of their
defence," Anagnostos said, using an
alternative acronym for IS.
The Rapid Response Force is being backed
up by the federal police who have made
steady gains in recent days.
They have now taken the Al-Arbiaa market
and a grain silo overlooking the Old City,
federal police commander Lieutenant General
Raed Shakir Jawdat said on Saturday.
That came after Jawdat announced the
capture of the Al-Basha Mosque and the Bab
al-Saray market on Friday.
"The federal police and the Rapid
Response Force led a surprise attack and
besieged Daesh cells in the Old City,
killing 13 of them with grenades," Jawdat
said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
- Civilians evacuated -
Iraqi forces had already taken a string
of key targets in west Mosul, including the
airport, the train station, Mosul Museum and
the provincial government headquarters.
The fall of Mosul, Iraq's second city,
would be a major setback for IS following
months of losses in Iraq and neighbouring
Iraqi authorities launched the fight to
retake Mosul from the jihadists on October
17 last year, with the support of the US-led
coalition that launched strikes against IS
in Iraq and neighbouring Syria in 2014.
Jawdat said Saturday the federal police
had evacuated civilians in the vicinity of
the Old City.
More than 150,000 people have fled their
homes in west Mosul, the Iraqi authorities
say, of which two-thirds have found shelter
in camps near the city where they receive
food, blankets and foam mattresses.
The United Nations has warned that the
exodus of tens of thousands of west Mosul
residents could overwhelm aid groups trying
to help them.
Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian
coordinator in Iraq, has said that any
increase in the pace of the exodus could
stretch aid groups "to the breaking point".