MOSUL, Iraq: Iraq will announce imminently a final victory in the nearly nine-month offensive to retake Mosul from jihadists, a US general said Saturday, as celebrations broke out among police forces in the city.
The defeat would be the biggest yet for the Islamic State group three years since it seized Mosul in a lightning offensive, swept across much of the country’s Sunni Arab heartland and proclaimed a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria.
The Iraqi forces launched their campaign to recapture Mosul in October, and since then IS has gone from holding the entire city to being trapped between security forces and the Tigris River on its western side.
Backed by a ferocious aerial bombing campaign by a US-led international coalition, the offensive has turned much of the city to rubble and forced tens of thousands of people to flee.
Diehard jihadists have been putting up fierce resistance in recent days, but their efforts to keep the Iraqi troops at bay look to be coming to an end.
“An announcement is imminent,” Brig. Gen. Robert Sofge told AFP by phone.
“I don’t want to speculate if it’s today or tomorrow but I think it’s going to be very soon,” he added.
The jihadists that remain in Mosul are fighting to the death in a tiny area of just two blocks of the Old City next to the Tigris, Sofge said, and those that remain are “desperate”.
‘Fleeing with shaven beards’
The general said some jihadists were trying to blend in with fleeing civilians by shaving their beards and changing their clothes, others were playing dead then detonating explosive vests as Iraqi forces close in.
Women had blown themselves up amid throngs of displaced civilians.
“They are doing as much damage as they can during these final moves,” Sofge said.
Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, which has spearheaded the assault, said the jihadists now only held a band of territory 100 to 150 meters deep and 300 meters wide.
“The end of the battle is near, I would say two days, but it could go on,” said CTS commander Abdel Ghani al-Assadi.
The battle for Mosul first began on October 17, 2016 and the fight grew tougher when Iraqi forces entered the warren of narrow alleys in the densely populated Old City.
Slowing the advance toward the final holdouts, IS fighters have placed booby traps and bombs in structures they occupied.
“The enemy has strung IEDs (improvised explosive devices) all over the place, in every place, in every closet, in one case under a crib,” said Sofge.
A final victory in Mosul would mark an epic milestone for the Iraqi security forces, who had crumbled in the face of an IS onslaught across Iraq in 2014.