Iraqi military forces begin assault on last IS-held areas in Mosul

© Sputnik. Rafael Daminov

Iraqi armed forces launched an operation on Saturday to capture the last Islamic State-held enclave in Mosul, according to a military statement, Reuters reported.

The fall of the city would effectively mark the end of Iraqi half of the “caliphate” declared nearly three years ago by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which also covers parts of Syria, according to Reuters.

Reuters added that the Iraqi air force dropped leaflets on Friday urging residents in the enclave to flee, although humanitarian groups fear for the safety of civilians trying to escape. The enclave covers mainly the Old City center and three adjacent districts alongside the western bank of the Tigris river.

The U.S.-backed offensive on Mosul, now in its eighth month, has taken longer than planned as the militants are dug in among civilians, fighting back with booby traps, suicide cars and motor-bikes, snipers and mortar fire, explained Reuters.

“The joint forces have began liberating the remaining districts,” said an Iraqi military statement, Reuters said.

Desperate civilians trapped behind Islamic State lines now face a harrowing situation with little food and water, no electricity and limited access to hospitals, added Reuters.

The push inside the Old City coincides with the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Its prime targets is the medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque and its landmark leaning minaret where Islamic State’s black flag has been flying since mid 2014, according to Reuters.

The forces hope to capture in the next few days the mosque where Baghdadi revealed himself to the world and announced the “caliphate” that also spans part of Syria. Residents in the Old City sounded desperate in telephone interviews made over the past few days, Reuters indicated.

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