MOSUL, Iraq, April 25 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi government forces on Tuesday freed a new neighborhood after heavy clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants in the western side of Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
The elite forces, known as Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), drove out IS militants from the neighborhood of al-Tanak in western edge of the city of Mosul and raised the Iraqi flags on some of its buildings after fierce clashes, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, from the Joint Operations Command (JOC), said in a statement.
The recapture of Tanak neighborhood, which had long been one of the main IS redoubts in Mosul, came after several days' battles against terrorist militants.
The latest advance is part of operations to retake control of the remaining IS-held neighborhoods in the western side of Mosul.
It is also part of slow push toward the western and northwestern edges of Mosul's densely populated old city center, where roughly 400,000 residents are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
Meanwhile, federal police and interior ministry special forces, known as Rapid Response, pushed further reinforcement troops to the edges of the old city center to initiate progress from new directions in the areas of Bab al-Toub and Bab al-Jadid, Lt. Gen. Raid Shakir Jawdat, commander of the federal police forces, said in a press release.
The move came as fierce clashes continued in the narrow streets in the old neighborhoods around the historical al-Nuri Mosque in the middle of Mosul's city center.
The troops' progress in the old city center is much slower than the early phases of the offensive by the stubborn resistance of IS militants, in addition to the orders to the troops that restricted the use of heavy bombings and increased sniper fire against the militants holed up in densely populated area to reduce civilians casualties.
Also in the day, the paramilitary Hashd Shaabi units launched in the early morning a new operation to dislodge IS militants from their desert stronghold in the town of Hadhar and nearby villages, some 80 km southwest of Mosul, a media office for Hashd Shaabi said in a statement.
After several hours of their advance, the paramilitary units cleared three villages near Hadhar from IS militants and defused many roadside bombs, the statement said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, announced the start of an offensive on February 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 heavily populated neighborhoods, 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.