Mosul – In the backdrop of fierce battles Iraqi forces are fighting the last of ISIS fighters lay devastated buildings, piles of rubble and putrid corpses of terrorists: apocalyptic scenes unfold in the Old City of Mosul where.
Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed al-Tamim walks past the body of an extremist half buried under the ruins of a building in Farouk district, three times within minutes, without giving it a glance.
The body, which has been decomposing for days in scorching heat of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), is bloated and turning black and the remains let off a pungent smell.
The bearded fighter died holding his weapon.
Lieutenant Colonel Salam al-Obeidi told AFP that he believes only “a few hundred ISIS” terrorists are left in the Old City.
Three years after overrunning Mosul and making it the de facto Iraqi capital of their self-proclaimed “caliphate”, the terrorists now only control about a square kilometer in the city, commanders said.
A warren of alleyways, the Old City resonates with the sound of gunfire from automatic rifles, exploding rockets and the thuds of mortar rounds as Iraqi forces battle the terrorists for their last holdouts.
“ISIS members don’t turn themselves in,” said Tamim.
“And if they don´t get killed, their last option is to blow themselves up and commit suicide.”
Carcasses of motorcycles and scooters that had been rigged with explosives and blown up are scattered along the sides of the Old City’s alleyways.
ISIS fighters have tried repeatedly to slow down the advance of Iraqi forces with suicide attacks.
Rubble from what used to be roofs or facades damaged in the fierce fighting litters the narrow streets, sometimes piled several meters (feet) high.
A soldier who took part in the battle to retake Farouk says air strikes were an important factor because armored vehicles were unable to be squeezed into the alleyways.
“We advance and determine where enemies are, then we call for air strikes to eliminate them, (and) then we advance, cautiously,” said a soldier who did not wish to be identified.
“We see lots of dead bodies. We’re searching for the others” who are still alive, he said of the ISIS fighters.
Buildings have been leveled entirely, with electrical cables dangling from them and debris from blown up cars found on the upper floors of those still standing.
Once a residential neighborhood, Farouk has been reduced to a wasteland of flattened buildings and streets filled with chunks of concrete and dust.
Inside the houses that have withstood the fighting, anarchy reigns.
Household items, furniture, clothes and cooking utensils are strewn everywhere, alongside bikes, toys and blankets, but not a soul to be seen.
The Iraqi army says it is taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians as it presses its offensive against the terrorists.
Tens of thousands of people are believed to be still trapped in the Old City, half of them children.
The civilians “are our priority and we have helped them,” said Lieutenant-General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) that has spearheaded the assault.
Iraqi forces launched an assault on the Old City on June 18, eight months into an offensive to retake Mosul, the country’s biggest military operation in years.
Hundreds of ISIS militants have been killed since the operation started on October 17, hundreds of civilians have also died. More than 800,000 people have had to flee their homes and many are still housed in overcrowded camps.
Survivors of the battle of Mosul say most families have lost one or several relatives, some killed by terrorists, and others due to the fighting.
Civilians who have fled the battleground city say entire families who had sought refuge in the basements of homes occupied by terrorists were killed in the bombardment.