Iraqi forces fought their way into more districts of Mosul but advances in the city’s southeast were being slowed by Islamic State’s use of civilians for cover, military officials said on Tuesday.
The United Nations said civilian casualties had streamed into nearby hospitals in the last two weeks as fighting intensified in the jihadist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq.
Advances by elite forces in the city’s east and northeast have picked up speed in a new push since the turn of the year, and U.S.-backed forces have for the first time reached the Tigris river, which bisects the city.
“They entered Hadba (district) today. There is a battle inside the city,” Lt-Colonel Abbas al-Azawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi army’s 16th division, said.
Seizing control of Hadba, a large district, would likely take more than a day, and Islamic State (IS) were deploying suicide bombers, he added.
Recapturing Mosul after more than two years of Islamic State rule would probably spell the end of the Iraqi side of the group’s self-declared caliphate, which spans areas of Iraq and Syria.
Forces in the city’s eastern and northeastern districts, and in particular the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), have made rapid gains in past days.
Better defenses against militant car bombs and improved coordination among the advancing troops had helped put Islamic State on the back foot, U.S. and Iraqi military officers said.
“Every day the Iraqi Security Forces go forward and every day the enemy goes backward or underground,” U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman for the coalition, told reporters in Erbil in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.