MOSUL, Iraq, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces on Wednesday fought heavy clashes against Islamic State (IS) militants and freed a new neighborhood in the western side of the city of Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
The commandos of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) liberated al-Maghrib neighborhood in west of Mosul's old city center and raised the Iraqi flag on some of its buildings after heavy clashes with the IS militants, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, from the Joint Operations Command (JOC), said in a statement.
The elite CTS special forces also initiated new progress in the adjacent neighborhoods of Aabar and Matahin, Yarallah said.
Wednesday advance is part of slow advance toward the western edge of Mosul's densely populated old city center, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
The elite troops have been fighting heavy street-to-street clashes during the past few days in the nearby neighborhood of Yarmouk, of which large part is in the control of the troops, a security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the federal police and interior ministry special forces, known as Rapid Response, continued their battles on the southern and western front lines at the edge of the old city center in an attempt to surround the extremist militants in the areas around the historical al-Nuri Mosque in the middle of Mosul's old city center, the source said.
The advance in the old city center have been slowed after the troops restricted the use of bombs and increased sniper fire against terrorist militants holed up in densely populated old city center, the source added.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, announced the start of an offensive on Feb. 19 to drive extremist militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of the Tigris River which bisects the city.
Late in January, Abadi declared the liberation of Mosul's eastern side, or the left bank of Tigris, after over 100 days of fighting IS militants.
However, the western part of Mosul, with its narrow streets and a population of between 750,000 and 800,000, appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi forces.
Mosul, 400 km north of Iraqi capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their posts and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.