Iraqi forces pushed deeper into Mosul’s Old City on Monday after launching a final assault on Daish, warning civilians to stay inside and telling radicals to “surrender or die”.
Iraqi forces launched the operation Sunday to retake the district, the last part of Iraq’s second city still held by Daish after a months-long offensive.
Commanders say the radicals are putting up fierce resistance and there are fears for more than 100,000 civilians believed to be trapped in the maze of narrow streets.
Staff Major General Maan Al Saadi, a top commander in Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), said that heavy fighting had resumed at dawn on Monday.
“At 6am, we pushed deeper into the Old City and took control of new areas in the Faruq neighbourhood,” he said.
“Daish resistance has been fierce,” he said.
“They have blocked every entrance, planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and booby trapped houses our forces might be near,” he said. “Penetrating was very difficult. Today the fighting is face to face.”
The push into Mosul’s historic heart on the west bank of the river Tigris marks the culmination of a months-long campaign by Iraqi forces to retake Daish’s last major urban stronghold in the country.
The US-led coalition battling Daish in Iraq and Syria has backed the offensive including with months of air strikes.
The loss of Mosul would mark the effective end of the Iraqi portion of the cross-border “caliphate” Daish declared in summer 2014 after seizing swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Sheltering from relentless fire and explosions near a sniper position on the edge of the Old City, CTS captain Ahmed Jassem described a bitter fight.
“We can’t bring our vehicles into these narrow streets. It means they can’t use as many car bombs either, but they use motorcycle bombs and even IEDs mounted on remote-controlled toy cars,” he said.
Iraqi forces stationed Humvees by the Grand Mosque on the retaken east side of Mosul, facing the Old City and mounted with speakers.
The loudspeakers blared messages to Daish fighters, telling them: “You have only this choice: surrender or die.”