Iraqi forces launched on Sunday a fresh push toward the ISIS-held old city center of Mosul, on the western bank of the Tigris river, an Iraqi military spokesman said.
The US-backed forces are fighting their way toward the old center of the city, advancing from the south and the southwest, Brigadier-General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the joint operations command, told state-run television.
Several neighborhoods have been captured since the US-backed operation began on 19 February, but bad weather has slowed the advance in recent days.
Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on Feb. 19.
A senior commander said Iraqi troops encountered the “heaviest” clashes yet with ISIS militants Sunday in western Mosul since the start of the new push.
Maj. Gen. Haider al-Maturi of the Federal Police Commandos Division told The Associated Press that ISIS militants dispatched at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching the troops. The militants, he said, are moving from house to house and deploying snipers.
Defeating ISIS in Mosul would crush the Iraqi wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2014, over parts of Iraq and Syria.
Rapid Response soldiers, progressing from the south through the Dawasa and Danadan districts, are within a few hundred meters from the government buildings near the old city, a media officer with these interior ministry units told Reuters.
Taking the sites of the provincial council and governorate buildings would help Iraqi forces attack the militants in the nearby old city and would be of symbolic significance in terms of restoring state authority over Mosul. The buildings themselves are destroyed and not being used by ISIS.
US-trained Counter-Terrorism Service units meanwhile pushed through Tal al-Ruman and the Somood districts, in the southwest, Rasool said.
The IOM, the UN migration agency, says more than 200,000 people have been displaced by the fighting since October last year, with a new exodus beginning on 25 February.
Up to 700,000 people are believed to remain in the city.
Centers for the displaced have been filling up quickly, with 7,619 families (45,714 individuals) arriving in the last nine days, it said.