First Published: 2017-03-17

Iraqi forces announce gains in Mosul Old City
Commander says Iraqi forces impose complete control on Al-Basha Mosque, Bab al-Saray market in Mosul’s Old City.
Middle East Online

Old City restricts use of large armoured vehicles

MOSUL - Iraqi forces said Friday they had seized ground inside Mosul's Old City, a district expected to see some of the fiercest clashes in the battle for the jihadist stronghold.

An operation began on February 19 to retake Mosul's west, the last major Islamic State group urban bastion in the country, which includes the Old City.

Iraqi forces have since retaken several neighbourhoods despite bad weather that has hampered air support. But as they close in on the ancient central district they face particular difficulties.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped under IS rule in the warren of densely populated, narrow streets which restrict the use of large armoured vehicles.

Federal police commander Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat said Friday that Iraqi forces backed by artillery and drones had advanced in the district.

"Federal police and Rapid Response units imposed their complete control over the Al-Basha Mosque... and the Bab al-Saray market in the Old City," he said.

The two sites lie on the edge of the district in the heart of Mosul, next to the Tigris river that slices the city in two.

Further west, forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service have pushed into the Al-Rissala and Nablus quarters, senior commander Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi said.

"The situation is good," he said.

- Major setback -

The fall of Mosul, Iraq's second city, would be a major setback for IS following months of losses in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

Mosul has huge symbolic significance for the group: it was from the Old City's Al-Nouri mosque that its secretive chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of his "caliphate" in July 2014.

Iraqi forces backed by an international US-led coalition launched a vast, long-awaited operation in October to oust the jihadists from Mosul, completing their recapture of the east in January.

Since launching their assault on the western sector, Iraqi forces have taken several districts and key buildings including the headquarters of Nineveh province's regional government and a railway station.

But the United Nations has warned that the exodus of tens of thousands of west Mosul residents could overwhelm aid groups trying to help them.

"The number of people is higher than expected," Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said. "If the pace accelerates further, it's going to stretch us to the breaking point."

Iraq's Ministry of Migration and Displacement says more than 150,000 people have so far fled their homes in Mosul's west, with two-thirds taking refuge in camps near the city where they receive food, blankets and foam mattresses.

Grande said the UN was concerned for the plight of people still trapped inside the city, forced to choose between staying amid the fighting or risking being targeted by jihadists if they decide to flee.

"We fear the civilians there might be trapped in an extremely difficult situation," she said.

The Reach Initiative, a group that helps aid groups collect data on humanitarian crises, said the situation in west Mosul was "severe to extremely severe".

"In areas still under (IS control), there is no access to markets and people are surviving on depleting food and water stocks, without access to electricity, fuel and healthcare," it said.

 

Pentagon skeptical about Russia's Syria pullout claims

Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

EU accused of complicity in Libya migrant rights violations

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Russia begins partial withdrawal from Syria

Russia weary of returning IS jihadists before World Cup, election

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Iran

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery