Iraqi officials have expressed their hope of taking control of the mosque by Eid al-Fitr because it is symbolic of Islamic state fighters.
|Middle East Online|
US-backed Iraqi forces launched a move on Wednesday toward the Nuri Mosque in Mosul, where the leader of the Islamic state organization Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the alleged caliphate state three years ago, military officials said.
The army said its troops cordoned off Tuesday the organization’s stronghold in the ancient city of Mosul, where the mosque is located.
A statement issued by the Iraqi army said that the counter-terrorism forces were 200 to 300 meters away from the Nuri Mosque.
British General Robert Jones, deputy commander of the International Alliance Against the Islamic State, said Iraqi forces were about 300 meters from the mosque.
The US-led coalition provides air and ground support in the battle of Mosul, which began on October 17, 2016.
Baghdadi himself declared a successor from the platform of the al-Nuri Mosque after the militant group’s fighters swept through parts of Iraq and Syria. The organization’s black flag is still flying over the minaret of the mosque since June 2014.
Iraqi officials have privately said they hope to regain control of the mosque by Eid al-Fitr, which falls on June 25 or 26 this year.
The battle for control of the Old City is the fiercest in an attack that began eight months ago to wrest control of Mosul, the heartland of the Islamic state in Iraq.
More than 100,000 civilians, half of them children, are trapped in the city’s old housing with food, water and scarce medicine, with no electricity.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that sick and wounded civilians fleeing through Islamic state lines were dying “in large numbers”.
“We are trying to keep the families inside their homes and after securing their areas, we will evacuate them through secure corridors,” Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, a senior commander of the counterterrorism agency in Mosul, told state television.
“We are launching more than one attack and at the same time we are going to divide them (Islamic state fighters) into small groups that will be easy to fight,” he said.
“We attack simultaneously from different fronts to break them up into smaller groups whose fighting is easier,” said a federal police officer who also took part in the attack on the Old City.
The Iraqi army estimates the number of Islamic state fighters at about 300 at the latest, lower than it was at the start of the battle of Mosul, which is about 6000 fighters.