Iraqi forces have recaptured nearly 90 percent of west Mosul from the Islamic State group and jihadists in the city are on the “brink of total defeat,” officers said on Tuesday.
Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul from I.S. nearly seven months ago, fighting their way to the jihadist-held city, retaking its eastern side and then attacking the west.
Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, told a news conference in Baghdad that I.S. now controls just over 10 percent of west Mosul. Both Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a senior Iraqi special forces commander, and Colonel John Dorrian, the spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition against I.S., said that the end was near for jihadists in the city.
“They have two options: die and go to hell or raise the white flag. They have no third option,” Saadi told AFP at his headquarters in Mosul. “The enemy is completely surrounded,” Dorrian told the news conference in Baghdad. “The enemy is on the brink of total defeat in Mosul.”
The drive to retake Mosul has been supported by a campaign of coalition airstrikes in and around the city. Dorrian said that coalition strikes have destroyed more than 300 explosives-rigged vehicles in Mosul, as well as over 200 I.S. tunnels and more than a thousand jihadist fighting positions.
I.S. now controls just a handful of neighborhoods around the Old City, one of the country’s heritage jewels. The area’s narrow streets and closely spaced buildings make it difficult for federal forces to take on the jihadists, requiring them to fight on foot instead of from vehicles as they have previously done.
Half a million people are currently displaced as a result of the battle for Mosul, and some 250,000 civilians are estimated to still be trapped inside the city’s west. The number of those fleeing has been on the rise, with Thursday seeing around 20,000 people fleeing west Mosul, the Norwegian Refugee Council said, in the biggest single-day displacement since the operation began.
The presence of a large civilian population, which either chose not to leave or was prevented from doing so by I.S., complicates any final assault to seal victory in Mosul.
While coalition airstrikes have aided the advance of Iraqi forces, they have also reportedly caused hundreds of civilian casualties in the city. Human shields have become a central feature of the vastly outnumbered jihadists’ defenses, and I.S. has stopped at nothing to deter people from escaping the city, including killing people who seek to flee.
Trapped residents reached by AFP inside I.S.-held areas have also recently warned that hunger was starting to kill more people than the fighting.
In eastern Mosul, life returned to a semblance of normality fairly quickly after Iraqi forces drove the jihadists back neighborhood by neighborhood until the area was fully recaptured earlier this year.
I.S. overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes have since retaken much of the territory they lost to the jihadists. But while the battle for Mosul is moving ever closer to its conclusion, the city’s recapture will not mark the end of the war against I.S. in Iraq.
Losing Mosul would remove from jihadists’ hands the largest Iraqi population center still under I.S. control, and would be a major blow to their narrative that they have established a cross-border Islamic “state.” But I.S. also holds other territory in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, as well as in Kirkuk and Anbar, while Syria’s Raqa is also controlled by the jihadists.