MOSUL, Iraq, May 12 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi forces battling Islamic State (IS) militants on Friday seized new areas in the northwestern edge of IS stronghold in the western side of Mosul, while the paramilitary units of Hashd Shaabi launched an operation to free areas near the Iraqi-Syrian border from the extremist militants, the Iraqi military said.
The special forces of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) took control of Islah al-Ziraie neighborhood after defeating IS militants in heavy street-to-street clashes during the past 24 hours, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
An earlier JOC statement said that the troops recaptured Islah al-Ziraie al-Oula or the first neighborhood, and crossed the main road that divides the Islah al-Ziraie neighborhood to al-Oula in the south and al-Thania or the second in the north amid heavy clashes.
On Thursday, the CTS Commander Abdul Ghani al-Asadi told reporters that the CTS troops made a significant progress in Islah al-Ziraie neighborhood, located at the edge of several adjacent IS-held neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the elite forces of the federal police, known as Rapid Response, backed by the army's armored and infantry forces cleared Harmat neighborhood from IS militants and continued house-to-house battles as they push into the adjacent neighborhoods of Iqtisadiyn and 17th July, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, from the Joint Operations Command (JOC), said in a separate statement.
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 pushing to seize 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.
Also in the day, the predominantly Shiite Hashd Shaabi units, backed by the army's helicopters, advanced in the early morning from six directions to the west to free the vast IS-held areas near the border with Syria, including the towns of al-Qairawan and Baaj.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Hashd Shaabi units, said in another statement that the paramilitary units are still surrounding the IS-held town of Tal Afar, some 70 km west of Mosul, and part of the units headed to the west in carrying out the first phase of a major offensive that aims at securing the border areas with Syria.
During the day, the paramilitary units fought sporadic fierce clashes with IS militants and managed to free a total of 21 villages in north, east and south of the town of al-Qairwan, which locates in the rugged sprawling area west of Tal Afar, according to the Hashd Shaabi statement.
The units and the army's helicopters killed some 77 IS militants and destroyed 15 suicide car bombs trying to hit the advanced units, the statement said.
The operation would enable the Hashd Shaabi units to secure the border areas between Iraq and neighboring Syria and cut off the IS supply routes between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of IS self-declared caliphate.
The operation came as the Iraqi security forces, backed by anti-IS international coalition, are carrying out a major offensive to dislodge IS militants from their major stronghold in the western side of Mosul in northern Iraq.
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.