The fighting in Mosul is reaching its climax as Iraqi forces battle to take the last few areas in the Old City from ISIS. More than eight months since the country’s forces launched a gruelling operation to retake Mosul, Islamic State has gone from fully controlling the city to holding a a few kilometres of the Old City.
When the operations first began, there were estimates that the number of fighters in the city was close to 8000. Now, as a result of months of fighting and losses, the group’s number is down to a few hundred. According to Brigadier General Nabil al-Fatlawi, a commander in the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), there are approximately 300 fighters, most of them of European nationalities, Arabs of other nationalities or of Asian origin left in the Old City.
Iraqi forces have been closing in on the Old City for months, but its narrow streets and closely spaced buildings combined with a large civilian population made for an extremely difficult fight. Some security personnel have complained that restrictions on using heavy weapons against hospitals, intended to protect the facilities, have made operations riskier and more time-consuming.
Since April, security forces recaptured a series of nearby neighbourhoods from the northwest of the city, eventually cornering the jihadists in the Old City. A final assault on the Old City began on the 18th June. They have since made significant progress. On Saturday, officers announced the recapture of a hospital and its surroundings north of the Old City, removing a nearby but unconnected pocket of ISIS resistance.
Last week, Iraqi forces retook the remains of the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in their greatest symbolic victory since the battle began. Even though it lies in ruins, the mosque’s recapture has provided a boost to Iraq’s forces and its government. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the jihadists’ “caliphate” was coming to an end.