MOSUL, Iraq – The advancing Iraqi forces are facing a combination of ISIS sniper fire, suicide bombers and tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the conflict areas, as they have entered the second day of their final push against the extremist group in western Mosul.
Rudaw’s cameras captured absolute mayhem as some fleeing civilians were shot at by the ISIS militants in the city’s western district of Saha, north of the ISIS's well-protected Old Mosul.
The US-trained Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) had killed at least 40 militants in the last two days by Sunday afternoon, many of whom the Iraqi commanders say are foreign fighters.
The extremist group is also said to have used 16 car bombs during the same period, a favourite tactic that is expected to decrease in number when fighting begins to enter the narrow streets of Old Mosul.
A CTS commander told Rudaw Sunday that they are trying to put in place a “360 degree siege” around the Old Town, after they launched a fresh offensive yesterday from three fronts against the ISIS militants in the area, where the black flag of ISIS has been flying over the symbolic Nuri Mosque since the summer of 2014.
"With the control of [Saha] district. We would be able to control the northern part of the Old Mosul,” Maan Zayid Ibrahim, a CTS commander said. “This means a full control over the three districts of Saha, Zanjali and Shifa. That is to say a 360 degree siege around the Old Mosul.”
The Iraqi forces have been fighting the ISIS group for about eight months in Mosul, gaining control over the vast majority of the city following the largest military operation since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and what US military officials have described as the largest urban fight since the Second World War.
The Iraqi commander also added that “the enemy has lost many of its defense capabilities” these past months.
Fewer than 1,000 ISIS militants are in control of the last five districts in western Mosul. By the estimates of the Iraqi commanders, the city should have been controlled as of yesterday when the holy month of Ramadan began.
They say they missed their self-appointed timeframe to protect the civilian lives, a reminder that the number of civilian casualties is already high, especially after the US-led global coalition has taken responsibility for more than 100 lives lost in one single airstrike on March 17.
Earlier in the day, Rudaw’s Sidad Lashkiri reported from Mosul that the CTS had controlled 70 percent of Saha neighborhood and the Iraqi army’s 9th Division was working to enter Shifa neighborhood and control its major hospital.
An average of 10,000 people were reported to flee conflict areas on a daily basis in Western Mosul, with 16,000 fleeing their homes last Thursday -- the largest movement of civilians in a single day, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said this week.
The Iraqi army announced their newest offensive to reclaim the remaining districts in war-torn west Mosul on Saturday including Old Mosul.
The strategically important Old Mosul district, home to the Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba Minaret, also known as the Great Mosque, is where the ISIS leader Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi declared his so-called Islamic State caliphate on June 29, 2014.
Iraqi forces had previously faced strong resistance when they tried to make advances against ISIS militants in Old Mosul, where it is more densely populated and the streets are narrower than the eastern part of the city. As a result, Iraqi armed forces were forced to shift their focus and open a new front in northwestern Mosul earlier this month.