Iraq claims Mosul Old City from Islamic State


dpa

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces have retaken control of the Old City in Mosul from Islamic State, the last area that was under the extremist militia’s hold in its former stronghold city, a military official said on Saturday.

“We are just a few metres from the Tigris river. The Iraqi progress, backed by the army air power, is great,” spokesman for the Mosul operation, Brigadier Yehia Rasoul, told state television al-Iraqia.

“We are coming closer to victory over Daesh,” he added, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

The official said that government forces had killed 35 Islamic State fighters and captured six others while they were trying to escape from the Old City in western Mosul.

Rasoul did not give figures about potential casualties among the government troops.

Over recent weeks, Iraq has reported slow advances in its campaign to dislodge Islamic State from the Old City, noted for its population density and narrow alleyways.

An elite force has “liberated” the last three districts inside the Old City, a senior Iraqi commander said on Saturday.

“Thus, the [militarized] federal police have completed their tasks in the Old City,” Lieutenant-General Abdul-Ameer Yarallah, the chief of the Mosul operation, added in a press statement without details.

Iraqi television broadcasters meanwhile showed footage of government soldiers atop armoured vehicles waving the national flag in jubilation reportedly inside the Old City.

One soldier was featured holding Islamic State’s black flag upside down.

Recapture of Mosul would mark the biggest victory for Iraq since Islamic State seized large chunks of the country in a 2014 blitz.

In February, Iraqi forces started a US-backed onslaught to wrest back the western section of Mosul from Islamic State, almost a month after they recaptured the eastern part of the city.

The Islamist extremists seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June 2014.

The Mosul mission coincides with a US-backed offensive by local fighters in neighbouring Syria aimed at expelling Islamic State from its de-facto capital of al-Raqqa in the war-torn country.