Iraqis prepare a hot air balloon with slogan "peace for Iraq" written in different languages before its take-off at Tahrir Square in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 9, 2017. The event is to show support for government forces currently fighting against the Islamic State militants. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)
MOSUL, Iraq, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- The Iraqi government forces on Wednesday extend its grip in the eastern side of the Islamic State stronghold in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, as fierce clashes continued against the extremist militants, the Iraqi military said.
In the eastern front, the elite forces of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) recaptured the neighborhood of 7th Nisan and cleared the adjacent neighborhood of Sukkar, amid fierce clashes with the extremist militants, a statement by the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said.
The battles in the two neighborhoods left some 40 militants killed and three booby-trapped cars destroyed, the statement said.
The CTS commandos also freed al-Maliyah neighborhood and raised the Iraqi flag over some of its buildings, leaving dozens of IS militants killed and two of their car bombs destroyed, the source said.
The recapture of 7th Nisan, al-Maliyah and other nearby neighborhoods will pave the way for the troops to seize the eastern bank of the Tigris River, which will be crucial to launch next phase of attacks on the western side of Mosul.
In the southeastern front, the Iraqi federal police and army soldiers continued their advance into the neighborhoods of al-Salam, Palestine, Sumer, Yarimja and Sahiron amid heavy fighting with IS militants, leaving dozens of IS militants killed and destroying a car bomb and two vehicles carrying terrorist militants, the statement said.
In the northern front, the army soldiers backed by international aircraft continued their heavy battles in the neighborhood of al-Hadbaa and nearby areas, leaving dozens of IS militants killed and wounded, along with destroying seven booby-trapped vehicles destroyed, it added.
The battles in Mosul came as the CTS commandos, army troops and federal police launched on Dec. 29 the second phase of a major offensive to free Mosul.
The troops made their new push into several neighborhoods in the eastern side of Mosul, locally known as the left bank of the Tigris River.
Last month, battles in Mosul had been slowed as extremist militants used locals as human shields, resorted to suicide car bombs and made mortar and sniper attacks in stiff resistance.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a recent report that the military operations in Mosul have pushed about 136,000 civilians to flee their homes in the city and its adjacent districts since the beginning of military offensive in October to reclaim the IS largest stronghold in Iraq.
More than 1.5 million people were trapped in the city of roughly two million population previously. Cold winter worsened the conditions for the displaced people who suffered severe shortages of food and water, while camps and other emergency shelters reached maximum capacity.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Oct. 17 announced a major offensive to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city.
Since then, Iraqi security forces, backed by international coalition forces, have inched to the eastern fringes of Mosul and made progress on other routes around the city.
Mosul, some 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.