MOSUL, Iraq, May 11 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi forces battling Islamic State (IS) militants on Thursday push further to besiege Mosul's old city center a week after launching a new push that initiated a new front in the northwestern edge of IS stronghold in the western side of Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
The elite forces of the federal police, known as Rapid Response, backed by armored vehicles initiated a new progress in Iqtisadiyn neighborhood amid fierce clashes with IS militants, leaving many extremist militants killed and destroying 17 of their vehicles, including five booby-trapped vehicles, Lt. Gen. Raid Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the federal police forces, said in a statement.
Hundreds of the rapid response commandos took positions with their sniper rifles on the roofs of the buildings in Street 60 thoroughfare at the neighborhood and traded fire with IS militants, Jawdat said.
Meanwhile, the commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) made a significant progress in Islah al-Ziraie neighborhood, which located at the edge of several adjacent IS-held neighborhoods, the CTS Commander Abdul Ghani al-Asadi told reporters.
"The troops recaptured large part of Islah al-Ziraie neighborhood, and we could have recaptured the whole neighborhoods, but the presence of civilians forced us to stop the progress, to make it safe for the families to leave their homes in the battlefield," Asadi said.
On May 4, the Iraqi army and Rapid Response special forces pushed on the new front from the northwestern edge of Mosul toward the areas of Mushairfah, Kanisah and Harmat in the northern part of the western side of the city.
The new push was aimed at helping the special forces of the CTS and the interior ministry federal police, who are making slow progress in the southern part of Mosul's western side because of the stiff resistance of the militants in the densely-populated areas of the old city center, where roughly 400,000 residents are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
The troops are now seizing the remaining neighborhoods in north and northwest of the city center to tighten noose around the IS redoubt in the city center in the western side of Mosul, including the old areas around the historical al-Nuri Mosque in the middle of Mosul's old city center.
Late in January, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, declared the liberation of Mosul's eastern side, or the left bank of Tigris, after over 100 days of fighting IS militants.
On February 19, Abadi announced the start of an offensive 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.
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 the Iraqi capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.