Baghdad, April 22 (IANS) Iraqi security forces on Saturday freed a new neighbourhood after heavy clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants in the western side of Mosul, the country's military said.
The elite forces, known as Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), dislodged the IS from the neighbourhood of al-Seha in Mosul's old city centre and raised the Iraqi flag on some of its buildings after fierce clashes, Xinhua news agency quoted Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, from the Joint Operations Command (JOC), as saying in a statement.
The recapture of al-Seha would enable the troops to initiate another push in the adjacent neighbourhoods of Zanjili, Warshan and Rifa'i in Mosul.
The latest push by the troops is part of a slow push toward the western and northwestern edges of Mosul's densely populated old city centre, where roughly 400,000 residents are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
Meanwhile, the troops' advance has hardly moved for more than a month at the edges of the old city centre as the federal police and interior ministry special forces, known as Rapid Response, have been fighting heavy back and forth battles against the IS in the narrow streets in the old neighbourhoods around the historical al-Nuri Mosque in the middle of Mosul's city centre.
The troops progress in the old city centre is much slower than the early phases of the offensive due to the stubborn resistance of IS militants, in addition to the orders to the troops that restricted heavy bombing and increased sniper fire against the militants holed up in densely populated areas to reduce civilian casualties.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, announced the start of an offensive on February 19 to drive militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of the Tigris River which bisects the city.
Late in January, Abadi declared the liberation of Mosul's eastern side, or the left bank of Tigris, after over 100 days of fighting the IS.
However, the western part of Mosul appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi forces due to narrow streets and heavy population.
Mosul, 400 km north of Iraqi capital Baghdad, has been under the IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their posts and fled, enabling the group to take control of northern and western Iraq.