BAGHDAD — U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were moving to surround Mosul’s Old City on Thursday, a week after launching a fresh push to drive Islamic State militants from areas they still hold, according to an Iraqi officer overseeing the operation.
Iraqi special forces Lt. Gen. Sami al-Arathi said battle plans had changed and a northern advance was launched last week after Iraqi forces struggled to push into the Old City from the south.
As Iraqi army and federal police forces push from the north, the country’s special forces are moving toward the Old City through Mosul’s western industrial neighborhoods.
“The multi-axis advance … has presented the enemy with more dilemmas than they can react to,” U.S.-led coalition spokesman John Dorrian told reporters during a press conference Wednesday. Dorrian said over the past week Iraqi forces retook more than 30 square kilometers (12 square miles) of terrain from IS.
Hundreds of civilians could be seen fleeing the fighting Thursday.
A Mosul woman was given a cigarette by an Iraqi soldier, another was handed a cane. A handful of wounded civilians were evacuated from the front line, and a woman who appeared to have lost both her legs was rushed away on the hood of an armored vehicle.
The operation to retake Mosul began in October, and the eastern half of the city was retaken earlier this year. The battle for the more densely populated western half, including the Old City, has been slower. Mosul fell to IS nearly three years ago when the militant group blitzed into Iraq from neighboring Syria and took nearly a third of the country under its control. Today a fraction of western Mosul is the last significant urban terrain IS holds in Iraq.
The U.N. estimates some 350,000 people remain trapped in IS-held parts of western Mosul. Clashes over the past week have forced more than 11,000 civilians to flee.
Dorrian said while IS defenses in Mosul are “degraded” each day, it is still impossible to predict how much longer the operation will take.
Associated press writer Maya Alleruzzo in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.