Mosul (Iraq) (AFP) – Iraqi forces pushed deeper into Mosul’s Old City on Monday after launching a final assault on the Islamic State group, warning civilians to stay inside and telling jihadists to “surrender or die”.
Iraqi forces launched the operation Sunday to retake the district, the last part of Iraq’s second city still held by IS after a months-long offensive.
Commanders say the jihadists are putting up fierce resistance and there are fears for more than 100,000 civilians believed to be trapped in the maze of narrow streets.
Staff Major General Maan al-Saadi, a top commander in Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told AFP that heavy fighting had resumed at dawn on Monday.
“We pushed deeper into the Old City and took control of new areas in the Faruq neighbourhood,” he said.
The various Iraqi forces pushing into the Old City made modest gains, as IS fighters rained mortar fire on their positions and offered stiff resistance.
“Penetrating was very difficult. Today the fighting is face to face,” Saadi said.
The push into Mosul’s historic heart on the west bank of the Tigris River marks the culmination of a campaign launched in October by Iraqi forces to retake IS’s last major urban stronghold in the country.
The US-led coalition battling IS in Iraq and neighbouring Syria has backed the offensive, including with months of air strikes.
The loss of Mosul would mark the effective end of the Iraqi portion of the cross-border “caliphate” that IS declared in summer 2014 after seizing swathes of Iraq and Syria.
– IEDs on toy cars –
Sheltering from relentless fire and explosions near a sniper position on the edge of the Old City, CTS captain Ahmed Jassem described a bitter fight.
“We can’t bring our vehicles into these narrow streets. It means they can’t use as many car bombs either, but they use motorcycle bombs and even IEDs mounted on remote-controlled toy cars,” he said.
Iraqi forces stationed Humvees by the Grand Mosque on the retaken east side of Mosul, facing the…