Mosul (IraqiNews.com) Iraqi Federal Police command said Tuesday its troops killed five Islamic State members in central Mosul’s Old City as troops maintain a siege around the area preparing to invade it.
Police chief Lt. Gen. Shaker Jawdat said in statements that a commando force launched a “surprise attack” near the Hadbaa (leaning) Minaret, the quaint structure at the Grand Nuri Mosque.
He said the troops killed five militants and seized their combat equipment, adding that police snipers were deployed above buildings surrounding the mosque.
Police forces have been besieging the the IS-held mosque over the past few weeks preparing to storm it. Retaking the mosque will represent a symbolic victory, being the location where Islamic State founder, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of the group’s rule in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Since Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, launched an offensive mid February to retake western Mosul from IS militants, operations have occasionally slowed down around the Old City, an area which Iraqi generals view as pivotal for the awaited victory over IS. Iraqi commanders were quoted saying they were slowing operations and ceasing airstrikes at the area to avoid civilian casualties. Islamic State’s reliance on snipers and suicide attackers, as well as the narrow structure of the Old City’s streets, have also contributed to the slowing pace of security efforts.