The new year has seen Iraqi government forces make marked progress against ISIS in the terror group’s last stronghold in the country, the northern city of Mosul.
The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, the country’s top-tier special-forces contingent, and members of federal police forces have retaken much of the eastern half of the city since the operation kicked off on October 17.
Since then, about 100,000 Iraqi troops, police, and allies in the Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias have converged on the city and its environs, grappling with a few thousand ISIS militants — many of them foreign fighters — for control of Iraq’s second-largest city.
In a video shared on Facebook by Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Martin, the commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, Iraqi forces can be seen making their way through Mosul’s streets, engaging in firefights and firing rocket-propelled grenades.
Iraqi forces continue to push ISIS fighters out of neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul, recently liberating the Mosque of the Prophet Younis, which is believed to be the burial site of the prophet Jonah. It was one of dozens of historical sites destroyed by ISIS when the terrorist group captured the city and much of northern Iraq in summer 2014.
The head of the Counter Terrorism Service has said Iraqi security forces are getting close to seizing the entire east bank of the Tigris, which would bring the eastern half the city back under government control.
In recent days, Iraqi forces have retaken Mosul University, a sprawling complex that overlooks neighbourhoods abutting the Tigris River, which divides the city into eastern and western halves.
“We entered the university and cleared the technical institute, dentistry and antiquities departments,” Lt. Gen. Abdelwahab al-Saadi of the CTS told a Reuters reporter. “In the coming hours it will be liberated completely.”
ISIS militants seized research facilities at the university when the captured the city. The UN has said the terrorist group took nuclear and chemical materials from the university’s labs, and Iraqi forces reportedly found chemical substances ISIS had tried to use to make weapons.
ISIS has used chemical agents like mustard gas in attacks in both Iraq and Syria.
Elsewhere in the city, Iraqi rapid-response and federal-police units — assisted by the Iraqi army and coalition air support — have taken control of portions of Mosul’s southeast riverbank, rebuffing ISIS suicide-car-bomb attacks and recapturing a field hospital used by the group.
“The Yarimja area … has been liberated, a large number of Daesh (Islamic State) elements were killed, and the rest fled to the right-hand side (western bank),” Lt. Col. Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi told Reuters.
A CTS spokesman told state television that more than 60 neighbourhoods of about 80 in eastern Mosul had been retaken since October.
More than a million civilians were in the city when the offensive began, and the months-long fight to retaken Mosul has left hundreds of thousands of them killed, wounded, or homeless. The UN has said 1,500 civilians have been treated in hospitals in nearby Irbil, though that total doesn’t reflect civilians treated in field hospitals near the city.
Over 148,000 people have been left homeless by the fighting in the city, including 12,500 who have been forced to flee over the past week. The toll on civilians has been especially high because ISIS has been targeting them, particularly when they try to flee the city.
The terrorist group continues to fire on and shell liberated portions of the city, and ISIS’ weapons of choice for large-scale attacks — car and truck bombs — are often detonated indiscriminately in the city’s neighbourhoods.
Iraqi civilians have also come under fire from friendly forces. An air raid in western Mosul — where narrow alleys and ancient buildings are sure to make fighting there especially deadly — killed up to 30 people last week.
It was not clear whether it was a Iraqi strike or one carried out by the US-led coalition.
Despite the lingering danger, many Iraqis in liberated portions of the city have gradually returned to something like normalcy.
Markets have sprung back to life and work crews have gotten busy repairing water mains and other damaged infrastructure.
“We are trying to forget,” 19-year old Wisam, working in eastern Mosul’s Zuhour neighbourhood, told Reuters.
“It will take time — some things have got inside our heads.”
You can see the full video, originally posted by YouTube user Gunnyman7, below.