Iraq troops made a dashing advance breaking through ISIS defense lines in an eastern suburb of Mosul on Monday, taking the battle for the insurgents’ stronghold into the city limits for the first time, a force commander said.
They made the gain as the U.S.-backed offensive to recapture Mosul — the largest military operation in Iraq since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 — after two weeks of fighting to clear surrounding areas of insurgents.
Commanders had warned earlier that the battle for the city, the hardline militants’ de facto capital in Iraq, could take weeks and possibly months.
Troops of the Iraqi army’s Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) moved forward on Gogjali, an industrial zone on the eastern outskirts. They then reached Karama district, their first advance into the city itself, an officer said.
“They have entered Mosul,” he said.
“They are fighting now in Hay (district) al-Karama.”
A Reuters correspondent in the village of Bazwaia saw plumes of smoke rising from a built-up area a few kilometres away which a commander said was the result of the clashes in Karama.
A Kurdish peshmerga intelligence source said he received a report saying seven ISIS militants were killed in the Aden district, adjacent to Karama, and two of their vehicles destroyed. Iraqi state television said there were clashes inside the city between residents and ISIS fighters.
The fighting ahead is likely to be more difficult as civilians still live there, unlike most villages taken so far by the Iraqi forces which were emptied of their Christian population.
ISIS singled out religious minorities in northern Iraq, including Christians and Yazidis, for killing and eviction after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014 over territory they captured there and in neighboring Syria.