SIGNS OF VICTORY: The troops launched a major push last month to oust the IS from west Mosul –
Mosul: Iraqi forces said on Tuesday that they recaptured Mosul’s train station, once one of the country’s main rail hubs and the latest in a series of key sites retaken from extremists.
The forces launched a major push last month to oust the IS group from west Mosul, taking back a series of neighbourhoods as well as sites including the city’s airport, the Mosul museum and the provincial government headquarters.
Some, including the museum, which was vandalised by IS, have been heavily damaged, and it will likely be a long time before trains are again plying the rails to and from Mosul.
But retaking the sites are symbolic victories for Iraqi forces and also bring them closer to fully recapturing west Mosul, though tough fighting remains ahead.
Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the federal police, said that his forces have retaken the train station as well as a nearby bus station, both of which are located southwest of Mosul’s Old City.
The station was the “main corridor from the north to the south and carries goods from Turkey and Syria to Baghdad and Basra,” Salam Jabr Saloom, the director-general of Iraq’s state-owned railway company, said.
Because of its importance, the station was “exposed to many terrorist attacks before the entry of Daesh,” Saloom said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
The station was built in the 1940s, and was “very important from a trade standpoint,” as it was a “launch point for trains carrying goods to Syria and Turkey and back,” railway company spokesman Abdulsattar Mohsen said.
“But it stopped after the Daesh attack on Mosul,” Mohsen said, referring to an IS offensive that overran the city and swathes of other territory north and west of Baghdad in 2014.
Trains once carried passengers to and from Mosul as well, but have not done so since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime by US-led forces in 2003, he said.
Iraqi forces are operating on the edge of the Old City, a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced buildings where hundreds of thousands of people may still reside.
The area, in which they will have to advance on foot when armoured vehicles cannot enter the small streets, could see some of the toughest fighting of the Mosul campaign.
Meanwhile, Iraqi government forces killed the IS commander of Mosul’s Old City on Tuesday as the battle for the militants’ last stronghold in Iraq focused on a bridge crossing the Tigris river.
As fighting intensified on Tuesday after the previous day’s heavy rains, civilians streamed out of western neighbourhoods recaptured by the government, cold and hungry but relieved to be free of the militants’ grip.
IS snipers were slowing the advance of Interior Ministry Rapid Response units on the Iron Bridge linking western and eastern mosul but the elite forces were still inching forward, officers said.
Federal police killed the military commander of the Old City, Abu Abdul Rahman al Ansary, during operations to clear Bab al Tob district, a federal police officer said.
With many IS leaders having already retreated from Mosul, Ansary’s death comes as blow to the militants as they defend their shrinking area of control street-by-street and house-by-house.
Capturing the Iron Bridge would mean Iraqi forces hold three of the five bridges in Mosul that span the Tigris, all of which have been damaged by the militants and US-led air strikes. The southernmost two have already been retaken. — AFP/Reuters