MOSUL/ERBIL, July 3, (Agencies): Islamic State fighters were battling to hold on to the last few streets under their control in the Old City of Mosul on Monday, making a doomed last stand in their former Iraqi stronghold.
In fierce fighting, Iraqi army units forced the insurgents back into a shrinking rectangle no more than 300 by 500 metres beside the Tigris river, according to a map published by the military media office. Smoke covered parts of the Old City, which were rocked by air strikes and artillery salvos through the morning. The number of Islamic State (IS) militants fighting in Mosul has dwindled from thousands at the start of the government offensive more than eight months ago to a mere couple of hundred now, according to the Iraqi military. Iraqi forces say they expect to reach the Tigris and regain full control over the city by the end of this week.
Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi is expected to visit Mosul to formally declare victory, and a week of nationwide celebrations is planned. Mosul is by far the largest city captured by Islamic State. It was here, nearly three years ago to the day, that it declared the founding of its “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria. With Mosul gone, its territory in Iraq will be limited to areas west and south of the city where some tens of thousands of civilians live. “Victory is very near, only 300 metres separate the security forces from the Tigris,” military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told state TV. Abadi declared the end of Islamic State’s “state of falsehood” on Thursday, after the security forces took Mosul’s medieval Grand al- Nuri mosque.
It was from here that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first and only video appearance, proclaiming himself “caliph” — the ruler of a theocratic Islamic state — on July 4, 2014. The Islamic State group is striking back as Iraqi forces are on the cusp of full victory in Mosul, sending women suicide bombers to target soldiers as the battle for the country’s second-largest city nears its end. At least 15 people were killed in the latest assaults across Iraq, officials said Monday. The attacks underscore the intense violence still plaguing the battered nation and the perils that will remain even after IS militants are pushed out of Mosul.
On Monday morning in Mosul’s Old City neighborhood — the scene of IS’ last stand, where soldiers are fast closing in on the last remaining pocket of militants — two women suicide bombers, hiding among a group of fleeing civilians, targeted Iraqi troops, killing one soldier and wounding several others.
And at a camp for displaced people in Iraq’s western Anbar province, a suicide bomber dressed in a woman’s all-covering robe killed 14 on Sunday evening, a provincial official said. After days of fierce battles, the militant-held territory in Mosul is rapidly shrinking, with IS now controlling just over 1 square kilometer in all, or about 0.40 square miles. Using women as suicide bombers is apparently the latest tactic by the militants, Sgt Ali Abdullah Hussein told The Associated Press as he returned from the front line, his troops carrying the body of their slain comrade wrapped in a blanket. “They appeared from the basement (of a building) and they blew themselves up,” Hussein said of the two women bombers. The attack happened in the area of the destroyed al-Nuri Mosque, which was the focus of the Iraqi forces’ push last week. Over the past three days, Hussein said at least four such attacks have targeted Iraqi forces as hundreds of Mosul’s civilians are fleeing the battles in the Old City’s congested streets. After the explosion on Monday, another group of civilians appeared on the main road, prompting the Iraqi soldiers to immediately draw their weapons. They then yelled to the group of mostly women and children to back away and take another route out.