Battle for Mosul: Elite Iraqi forces storm Isis-held enclave

US-backed units capture sector and trap Islamist elements with Tigris river to their rear

The Iraqi offensive to recapture Mosul is  now in its eighth month. Photograph: Getty Images

The Iraqi offensive to recapture Mosul is now in its eighth month. Photograph: Getty Images

 

US-backed Iraqi forces on Friday captured one of the four districts comprising the Islamic State-held enclave in Mosul, according to the military.

The elite Counter Terrorism Service units took the Sihha district, about one week after the start of operations to dislodge the militants from the enclave and finish off the offensive to capture Mosul, now in its eighth month.

Iraqi security forces are preparing for an offensive that could be days or weeks away. Photograph: Reuters

With the loss of Sihha, the enclave has shrunk to three districts alongside the western bank of the Tigris river – the densely-populated Old City centre, Zanjili and the Medical City.

Iraqi government forces retook eastern Mosul in January and began a fresh push on May 27th to capture the enclave where about 200,000 people are trapped in harrowing conditions.

Civilian shield

The Mosul offensive started in October with air and ground support from a US-led international coalition. It has taken much longer than expected as Islamic State is fighting in the middle of civilians, slowing the advance of the assailants.

At least seven civilians were killed and 23 wounded by Islamic State mortar shells as they tried to flee Zanjili on Thursday, said Iraqi police.

The fall of Mosul would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate” declared in 2014 over parts of Iraq and Syria by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a speech from a historic mosque in the old city.

An Iraqi counter terrorism forces member stands guard in Mosul’s al-Jadida area on Sunday. Photograph: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images
An Iraqi counterterrorism forces member in Mosul. Photograph: Getty Images

In Syria, Kurdish forces backed by US air strikes are besieging Islamic State forces in the city of Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital in that country.

Some 700,000 people, about one-third of the pre-war population of Mosul, have already fled, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps.