Iraqi forces have reached the Tigris riverside, according to state TV, as they inch closer to fully recapturing Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
“Forces from the Counter Terrorism Service raised the Iraqi flag on the Tigris riverbank in the Old City of Mosul,” read an on-screen headline on Iraqiya News on Sunday.
About 100 ISIL fighters had earlier been reported to be trapped in a sliver of the Old City along the Tigris on its western side. The armed group controlled just two blocks, Iraqi commanders said on Saturday, adding that their troops were just “tens of metres” away from defeating ISIL.
Officials have made similar pronouncements of victory being imminent over the past week, but progress appears to have slowed in recent days with ISIL fighters placing booby traps and bombs to block advancing troops.
Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford, reporting from Erbil in northern Iraq, said that fighting is still ongoing away from the Tigris River.
“It will be very difficult for the Iraqi forces to flush out these last remaining ISIL fighters,” he said.
The fall of Mosul would be the biggest defeat yet for ISIL three years after it seized the city in a lightning offensive.
A US general also said on Saturday that victory in Mosul is “imminent”.
“I don’t want to speculate if it’s today or tomorrow but I think it’s going to be very soon,” Brigadier General Robert Sofge told the AFP news agency. He offered “congratulations in advance” to Iraqi troops.
On Saturday, jubilant police forces were seen flashing V-for-victory signs in Mosul and posing for selfies in front of each other holding up ISIL’s black flag upside down.
Distraught women and children were seen clutching what few belongings they could carry. Hungry and haggard, they told AFP they had spent months being held as human shields by ISIL fighters.
As the Iraq forces makes their final push, approximately half of the population of the city is still displaced, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said.
Tens of thousands of people are likely to return to the city in the near future, placing pressure on the Iraqi government and the international community to begin rebuilding immediately.
Civilians flee last ISIL enclave in Mosul’s Old City
“Rebuilding will be the key to preventing further conflict in Iraq,” said Heidi Diedrich, the NRC’s country director.
“People from every ethnic, religious and socio-economic group in Iraq have suffered as a result of this conflict. It is the responsibility of the international community now to help them rebuild their country and repair the divisions that helped to create the conflict in the first place.”
With air support by the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched the battle for Mosul in October, retaking the eastern part of the city in January and starting the operation for its western part the next month.
Since then hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than 850,000 people have been displaced, according to the Iraqi government.
ISIL has lost much of the territory it once held in Iraq over the last three years. Mosul is their last urban bastion in Iraq.
“It is important to recognise that there are still a number of towns and areas of Iraq that ISIL still controls,” said Al Jazeera’s Stratford.
Due to the protracted conflict, over three million people are displaced across Iraq.
One third of Iraq’s population, 11 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance. Yet only 42 percent of the funding required to meet their needs has been provided this year.
“There are some very deep questions that remain to be answered with respect to security, politics and sectarian tension inside Iraq after the battle for Mosul is over,” said our correspondent.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies