Iraqi forces about to encircle militants in Mosul’s Old City

ERBIL: Iraqi forces said they were about to complete the encirclement of IS’s stronghold in the Old City of Mosul, after taking control of a neighbouring district on Thursday.
Iraq’s military said it had captured Bab Sinjar, north of the historic, densely-populated district where the militants launched their cross-border “caliphate” in 2014.
Government forces and their allies still have to take full control of Medical City, a complex of hospitals further north along the bank of the Tigris, to enclose the militant enclave.
The offensive to retake the northern city started in October with air and ground support from a US-led international coalition.
Iraqi government forces retook eastern Mosul in January then a month later began the offensive on the western side where about 200,000 civilians remain trapped behind IS lines.
The fall of Mosul would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate” that IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared in a speech from a historic mosque in the Old City.
About 800,000 people, more than a third of the pre-war population of Mosul, have already fled, seeking refuge with friends and relatives or in camps. Kurdish forces backed by US-air strikes are also besieging IS forces in the city of Raqqa, the militants’ de facto capital in neighbouring Syria.
On Wednesday, IS fighters sneaked into the government-held neighbourhood of Dandan in the western section of Mosul and clashed with forces.
Government troops on Thursday regained control of the district after they drove out the infiltrators, the sources said. But, some local residents felt unsafe.
“At least 50 families had to leave Dandan for other liberated districts for fear of the repetition of attacks,” a military source said, referring to counter-attacks by Islamic State.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not say how many people are still living in Dandan.
In recent months, IS has stepped up its attacks in different parts of Iraq in a bid to distract attention from the country’s ongoing US-backed operation to retake Mosul from the radical group.
In February, Iraqi forces started a major offensive to wrest back the western section of Mosul from IS almost a month after they recaptured the eastern part of the city.
— Agencies