Baghdad, London – Iraqi army units advanced toward the center of Mosul on Tuesday in an attack from the city’s southeastern edges following days of slow advancements.
Iraqi television reported campaign commander Lieutenant General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah saying troops had entered Salam Hospital, less than 1.5 km from the Tigris River running through the city center.
A colonel in the armored division said Tuesday’s assault, launched at 6 a.m., aimed to ultimately reach Mosul’s Fourth Bridge, the southernmost of five bridges spanning the river.
The bridge, like three others, has been hit by U.S.-led air strikes to prevent ISIS sending reinforcements and suicide car bombs across the city to the eastern front.
The last and oldest bridge, built in the 1930s, was targeted on Monday night, two residents said. The structure was not destroyed, but the airstrikes made two large craters in the approach roads on both sides.
“I saw ISIS using bulldozers to fill the craters with sand and by midday vehicles managed to cross the bridge normally. I drove my car to the other side of the bridge and saw also Daesh vehicles crossing,” a taxi driver told Reuters.
Residents of ISIS-controlled districts of east Mosul said by telephone the army had punched deep into the east bank of the city, getting close to the Tigris.
Lt. Dureid Said said that the Iraqi army was able to liberate al-Shuhada and Elam areas completely, killing 19 ISIS militants including suicide bombers.
Said added that Iraqi forces have started helping families to return to their liberated homes after ISIS has fled the areas.
Meanwhile, 21 Iraqi citizens were killed and 35 others injured after a bus exploded in east Mosul. Sources at the Iraqi army reported that most causalities were among women and children.
Coalition officers expect the western part of the city to witness the toughest battles. The coalition include 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and mainly Shi’ite paramilitary forces participating in the Mosul campaign that began on Oct. 17, with air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition.
“The quality of the enemy we are facing now is markedly declined from a month ago,” Brigadier General Scott Efflandt, a coalition deputy commander, told Reuters.
“What they were saving for the west side of the river they are now committing to the east,” he added.
He said the number of ISIS militants in the city had probably fallen to around 3,000, from around 3,000-5,000 at the start of the campaign.
According to the Brigadier General, they are three thousand only but well trained and have plenty of resources.
In addition, civilians in the city hamper the advancement of the Iraqi army as it limits options of used military weapons.
Efflandt admitted that it will take time to liberate the city and end ISIS’ existence in the area.