Mosul – Iraqi forces made advances in their fight against the ISIS extremist group in the Old City of Mosul with drones being used to direct strikes against militants and as the US-backed offensive to capture the city entered its seventh month.
A Reuters correspondent saw thick smoke billowing over the Old City, near the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, from where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a so-called “caliphate” spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.
Heavy exchanges of gunfire and mortar rounds could be heard from the neighborhoods facing the old city across the Tigris River that bisects Mosul into a western and eastern sides.
The war between ISIS militants and Iraqi forces is taking a heavy toll on several hundred thousand civilians trapped inside the city, with severely malnourished babies reaching hospitals in government-held areas.
Iraqi Federal Police forces “are engaged in difficult, house-to-house clashes with ISIS fighters inside the Old City”, a media officer from these units told Reuters.
Drones are being used to locate and direct air strikes on the militants who are dug in the middle of civilians, he said.
Troops have had the famous centuries-old al-Nuri Mosque leaning minaret in their sights since last month, as capturing it would mark a symbolic victory over the militants. A police spokesman said the troops were closing in on the mosque without indicating the remaining distance.
Iraq’s Rapid Response Division announced on Monday its liberation of the Hay al-Thawra in the eastern side of Mosul after hours-long street battles.
The Division’s media director Abdul Amir al-Mohammedawi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Our forces advanced towards their targets that are represented in the liberation of Hay al-Thawra.”
He revealed that the neighborhood has been “completely” liberated from ISIS.
The Division also carried out a sweep of liberated roads and buildings in the Old City in search of explosives that have been planted by the militants before their retreat.
“We have also ensured the safe passage of displaced and besieged families,” Mohammedawi added.
The Iraqi forces’ progress has been slow as about 400,000 civilians, or a quarter of Mosul’s pre-war population, are trapped in the Old City, according to the United Nations.
As many as half a million are estimated to remain overall in neighborhoods still under control of the militants in western Mosul, the organization said in a statement on Monday.
“Civilians in Mosul face incredible, terrifying risks,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande.
“They are being shot at, there are artillery barrages, families are running out of supplies, medicines are scarce and water is cut-off.”