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Iraqi forces face difficult street fighting in western Mosul

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi forces pictured here in western Mosul are fighting to rout 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' militants from their last strongholds. [Photo courtesy of Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service]

After a long day of fierce fighting in the narrow streets and alleys of western Mosul, 25-year-old Iraqi soldier Ali Hamza rested alongside his heavily armed comrades before embarking on another attack on "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) strongholds.

Iraqi forces are fighting ISIL militants in a highly complex battle on the right bank of the Tigris. The area is densely populated, with small houses tightly aligned.

Additionally, the soldiers are unable to move with their military vehicles in the narrow streets.

But Hamza and his elite forces comrades are well trained in street fighting in such conditions, he told Diyaruna.

"We use sniper fire against the enemy from places they are not expecting and we quell the source of the fire in a few minutes," he said.

"Our greatest concern is to prevent them from hiding behind residents," he said. "We try to force them to expose themselves and then shoot at them at the right moment."

Third of west Mosul retaken

Despite the tough battle, Iraqi troops have already recaptured a third of west Mosul since the battle was launched on February 19th, trapping extremists inside.

"We are fighting a frustrated enemy that has lost everything," Hamza said. "They have no escape from death."

Soldiers from the 9th Armoured Division scored an important victory on Saturday night (March 11th) when they cut the last road out of west Mosul, said Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the international coalition.

"Any of the fighters who are left in Mosul, they are going to die there, because they are trapped," McGurk told journalists in Baghdad.

"We are very committed to not just defeating them in Mosul, but making sure these guys cannot escape," he said.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command (JOC) announced additional gains on Monday, saying that elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces had recaptured al-Nafat neighbourhood, AFP reported.

Lt. Gen. Raed Shaker Jawdat said that forces from the Rapid Response Division, another special forces unit, and the federal police were working to search and clear territory on the edge of Mosul's Old City.

The forces are conducting "combing and search operations in the liberated areas of Bab al-Toub, searching for traps and mines and terrorists hiding among the people", Jawdat said in a statement.

ISIL in 'poor psychological state'

The fighting in west Mosul is going according to plan, JOC spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasul told Diyaruna.

"Our troops are fighting fearlessly and despite all the complications of the battle, they are achieving good results," he said, adding that progress on the ground continues.

Iraqi forces advancing from the southern front of west Mosul have already retaken the Mosul airport and Ghazlani base , in addition to taking control of the fourth bridge over the Tigris.

On the northern and western fronts, troops have recaptured the Atshana mountain chain and al-Damarji village south of Badoush tightening the noose around ISIL, Rasul said.

A large number of ISIL militants, including foreign fighters, have been killed or captured in the process, he said, noting that dozens of ISIL bodies litter the streets of Mosul.

ISIL fighters have reached a "poor psychological state", Ninawa provincial council member Khalaf al-Hadidi told Diyaruna.

They know their defeat is near, he said, adding that they are fighting without leadership "since most of their commanders have either been killed or have fled leaving them to face death on their own".

"Our forces have sealed off all escape routes. ISIL’s militants are trapped and in a bad psychological state," Ninawa provincial council security committee member Binyan al-Jarba told Diyaruna.

"The gunmen can either surrender or die," he said. "ISIL’s elements are trying to hide behind civilians and take advantage of the complex geography of the battle zone."

"However, that will not delay much the resolution of the war," he said.

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