Iraqi forces ‘days away’ from full control of eastern Mosul

Special forces close to linking up with army's northern advance a day after reaching the Tigris river that divides the city into east and west.

A member of the Iraqi special forces in Al Zuhoor district of east Mosul on January 9, 2017. Alaa Al Marjani / Reuters
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Baghdad // Iraqi forces will retake all of east Mosul from ISIL within days, a top commander of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) said on Monday as the elite corps pushed the extremist militants out of more territory.

East Mosul will be retaken within “a few days, God willing”, Lt Gen Abdulghani Al Assadi said, a day after CTS forces reached the eastern side of a bridge across the Tigris River, which divides Mosul, for the first time after weeks of fighting.

Gen Assadi said that “the bridge fell tactically”, though Iraqi forces were still some 150 metres away.

The CTS was working to seize areas overlooking Mosul university in the city’s north-east, after taking over a nearby district, another commander said.

“The Baladiyat neighbourhood is done and Sukkar should be done before nightfall,” Maj Gen Sami Al Askari said.

“This area is very important because it overlooks the university. It is a central district ... If it falls we will control the forests, the presidential palaces and the eastern bank of the Tigris,” he said.

The CTS was also close to linking up with troops nearby, a commander in a regular army unit said.

“They will soon liberate other areas and hopefully finish the eastern side ... God willing we will soon announce the liberation of the entire eastern side from Daesh,” Maj Gen Najm Al Jubbouri said in the Al Hadba apartments complex in northern Mosul, which the army entered for the first time last week.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi forces launched an offensive on October 17 to retake Mosul, the last major urban centre in Iraq still controlled by the group that seized about a third of the country in 2014. The federal advance inside the city had slowed to a crawl in late December but fresh coordination between the CTS and other forces has given fresh impetus to the operation.

They have also received increased support from the US-led coalition that has carried out the bulk of air strikes against ISIL and deployed military advisers on the ground.

“It’s pretty excellent progress that they’ve made over the last couple of weeks, since they restarted the operation on the 29th” of December, coalition spokesman Col John Dorrian said.

“They have synchronised three axes of advance ... and that’s more than the enemy can solve,” he said.

Col Dorrian said that CTS foray to the Tigris had more than just symbolic value for the 12-week-old operation to retake Mosul.

“The Tigris – that’s a natural landmark and a barrier that the enemy would have to navigate to either escape or reinforce,” he said.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters