Police forces retake areas near central Mosul’s Old City, approach landmark mosque

A sniper from Iraq’s Federal Police force takes aim at Islamic State positions from the roof of a house on the frontline in Albu Saif, south of Mosul. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Mosul ( Iraqi Federal Police forces recaptured some areas around central Mosul’s Old City on Tuesday, killing tens of Islamic State militants as forces approach a strategic mosque.

Federal Police chief Shaker Jawdat said in a statement that the forces recaptured Qadhib al-Ban area, a railway station and an oil reservoir area west of the Old City in an overnight raid. He said earlier battles on Monday morning, which lasted for five hours, left 120 Islamic State militants dead and 12 booby-trapped vehicles destroyed.

“Our forces are on the frontlines, and are now encircling the Old City from three directions,” said Jawdat. “The Nuri Mosque is tens of meters away from our troops, and safe exits are being opened for civilians before we advance towards it,” he added, noting that more than 1500 families were evacuated from the area since Monday.

The Grand Nuri al-Kabir mosque in western Mosul (Google Maps)

Jawdat was referring to the Grand Nuri al-Kabir Mosque, the place where Islamic State supreme leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of the group’s rule in Iraq and Syria in 2014. Retaking the mosque would represent a major symbolic blow to the extremist group which has lost most of territories it held in Mosul since the beginning of the security campaign in October.

Iraqi generals view the retaking of the Old City as strategic for the desired victory against IS.

Also in western Mosul, al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units), the paramilitary troops fighting alongside the government, said Tuesday they killed 36 IS members in a foiled attack on the forces on Ein al-Hussan, a village near the major IS stronghold town of Tal Afar.

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