Iraqi forces recapture bridge amid advance to clear western Mosul from IS militants

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-01 19:17:58|Editor: Song Lifang
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MOSUL, Iraq, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi government forces on Saturday recaptured a bridge across the Tigris River from Islamic State (IS) militants in the old city in the western side of Mosul, a security source told Xinhua.

"The federal police carried out a push at dawn in the southern part of the old city and managed to seize the foot of a strategic bridge across Tigris, locally known as Old Bridge," a federal police colonel said on condition of anonymity.

All of Mosul's five bridges, spanning the Tigris River to the city's eastern bank, were destroyed by airstrikes last year.

The troops also seized the commercial area of Arbiaa Market in the southern part of the old city, as heavy house-to-house clashes with assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles and hand grenades were underway against the extremist militants in the densely-populated old city, the officer said.

"The federal police recaptured the mosques of Ka'ab bin Malik and Omariyah as well as the surrounding residential areas, killing dozens of IS terrorists, including three snipers, and defusing more than 50 roadside bombs," the officer told Xinhua.

Also in the day, the federal police and the interior ministry's Rapid Response special forces freed the northern part of al-Shifaa neighborhood, the last neighborhood which remained outside the major IS redoubt of the old city center, after heavy clashes with the extremist militants, Abdul-Amir Yarallah from the Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.

According to Yarallah, the troops freed a hospital compound in the neighborhood and the main water facility of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of the Tigris River which divides the city.

The battles came two days after the commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces drove the IS militants out of al-Nuri mosque and its leaning al-Hadbaa minaret.

On June 21, the IS blew up al-Nuri mosque, as Iraqi forces were pushing closer to the mosque and the surrounding area amid fierce house-to-house battles in some nearby alleys.

The mosque was built in 1172 AD along with its famous leaning minaret, which gave the city its nickname "al-Hadbaa" or "the hunchback."

It was where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the cross-border "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria in his sole public appearance in July 2014.

The CTS, army, federal police and the Rapid Response forces have been fighting inside the old city, but the troops are making slow progress due to the stiff resistance of IS militants and a large number of roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings, in addition to IS snipers taking positions in the buildings and narrow alleys of heavily-populated neighborhoods.

According to recent UN reports, some 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the IS-held areas in the old city center and the adjacent al-Shifaa neighborhood.

Mosul, 400 km north of Iraq's 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.