Washington, Baghdad, Mosul – Iraq will imminently announce a final victory in its battle to retake Mosul from ISIS, a US general said.
“An announcement is imminent,” Brigadier General Robert Sofge told AFP on Saturday, adding: “I don’t want to speculate if it’s today or tomorrow but I think it’s going to be very soon.”
After nearly nine months of launching the offensive, ISIS is now cornered in a tiny area in the Old City after it was in control of large areas since 2014. ISIS militants that remain in Mosul are fighting to death in a tiny area of just two blocks of the Old City next to Tigris.
“The end of the battle is near, I would say two days, but it could go on,” said Counter Terrorism Services commander Abdel Ghani al-Assadi. He added that a group of ISIS militants tried to escape across the Tigris river from west Mosul but were killed by the Iraqi force.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command issued a statement saying that 35 ISIS members were killed and six captured trying to escape “the advance of our forces” in the Old City.
Hundreds of ISIS militants are estimated remaining in the Old City inside the allies and nearby buildings. Despite being in a relatively small area, the presence of civilians is making the military operation dangerous.
Dozens of Iraqi soldiers celebrated amid the rubble on the banks of the Tigris river without waiting for a formal victory declaration, some dancing to music blaring out from a truck and firing machine guns into the air, a Reuters correspondent said.
Earlier on Saturday, a military spokesman said the insurgents’ defense lines were collapsing, state television reported. A TV presenter reported correspondents with security forces saying that final victory will be announced soon.
However, ISIS’ news agency Amaq reported “fierce fighting” around the riverside district of Maydan and said its fighters “were holding onto their fortified positions.”
Iraqi commanders said the militants were fighting for every meter with snipers and suicide bombers, which forces the security forces to fight house-to-house in the densely populated narrow alleyways.
“The battle has reached the phase of chasing the insurgents in remaining blocks. Some members of ISIS have surrendered,” Iraqi military media office said in a statement.
Rubbish and ammunition boxes were scattered on the road in the city and the only civilians seen were a group of about 15 women, children and elderly, some of them wounded, sheltering in a destroyed gas station.
Security forces and medics were giving them first aid.
Aid organizations said that months of urban warfare has displaced 900,000 people, about half the city’s pre-war population, and killed thousands.
After liberating Mosul, ISIS’ domination in Iraq will be reduced to mainly rural, desert areas west and south of the city where tens of thousands of people live. Militants are expected to keep up attacks on selected targets across Iraq.
UN predicts it will cost more than $1 billion to repair Mosul’s infrastructure in Mosul. UN officials even said that the extent of the devastation might be underestimated.