Iraqi commander says 300 ISIL fighters holed up in Mosul
MOSUL – The Associated PressSome 300 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters remain in the small patch of territory still controlled by the group in Mosul’s Old City, a senior Iraqi commander said on July 5.
Lt. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of Iraq’s special forces told The Associated Press that the militants’ hold on Mosul has shrunk to a 500 square meter area. A large number of civilians are believed to be trapped in the ISIL-run enclave, with around 1,500 fleeing with every 100-meter advance by Iraqi forces.
Iraqi forces moved to besiege the Old City before launching their attack in order to prevent ISIL fighters from fleeing to neighboring Syria, but al-Aridi said hundreds of militants still managed to escape from the Old City alone.
“They just shave their beards and walk out,” al-Aridi said. “Just yesterday we captured two among a group of women and children.”
Late on July 4, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the armed forces on a “big victory” in Mosul, despite ongoing clashes.
ISIL captured Mosul in a matter of days when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition launched a major operation to retake the city in October.
“Praise be to God, we managed to liberate [Mosul] and proved the others were wrong, the people of Mosul supported and stood with our security forces against terrorism,” al-Abadi said.
His remarks came on the third anniversary of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s sermon at the al-Nuri Mosque, from where he declared an Islamic caliphate on ISIL-held lands in Syria and Iraq.
Also during the press conference, al-Abadi added that he has given instructions to rebuild and stabilize areas of the city already freed from the militant group.
Inside Mosul’s Old City, civilians fleeing Iraqi advance are increasingly desperate. The elderly and weak are carried across mounds of rubble in blankets. Soldiers - increasingly fearful of the Old City’s inhabitants after a string of suicide bombings - hurry the groups along.
A middle-aged woman with a gaunt, pale face fainted as she fled past the destroyed al-Nuri Mosque. Two soldiers carried her to the roadside and tried to revive her with cold water.
Largely cut off from food and water for months, humanitarian groups are reporting a spike in the number of displaced people suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.
“None of the previous battles were like this,” said Iraqi Maj. Faris Aboud, working at a small field hospital just outside the Old City.