After just over eight months since the start of operations to liberate Mosul, Iraqi forces have begun to make incursions into the Old City after besieging it over the weekend. The Old City remains the last pocket of ISIS control in Mosul, and the site of the Hadbaa Minaret and the Nouri mosque, where the group announced its so-called caliphate in 2014.
The Iraqi forces’ advance on the Old City comes after the announcement of the liberation of the Shifa neighbourhood over the weekend. Initially, the assault on the neighbourhood had to be called off due to heavy fire from the IS, but on Sunday, Iraq’s Elite Golden Division launched another assault and managed to take control of the neighbourhood.
Sacred sites such as the Hassan Mosque, Church of Mary, and the Yahya bin Qasim Mosque near the bank of the Tigris were among those liberated in the Shifaa neighbourhood, according to the Joint Task Force.
However, the final attack on the Old City is likely to be prolonged and difficult. Iraqi forces have already attempted to make incursions in recent weeks with incremental gains achieved, as a result of the high number of civilians packed into the area. ISIS militants have moved civilians from neighbourhood to neighbourhood using them as human shields, forcing the Iraqi military units to be restrained in their attacks.
Furthermore, the narrow alleyways have thus far restricted artillery advance or the use of aerial bombardment to hamper ISIS defences in the Old City. The battle will ultimately come down to door-to-door combat as Iraqi forces comb the winding streets in pursuit of ISIS militants.
However, Iraqi forces have already made progress on numerous axes of the Old City. The Federal Police have entered from the southern and western axes, with some reports putting them at only 300 metres from the Nouri mosque. From the north, the Counter Terrorism Forces have stormed Malahameet. According to the Head of the Counter Terrorism Forces, Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, the battle for the Old City “will be the last in the series of Mosul operations”.