Iraqi forces have fully retaken east Mosul from the Islamic State group, a top commander on Wednesday said, three months after a huge offensive against the jihadist bastion was launched.
Elite forces have in recent days entered the last neighbourhoods on the eastern side of Mosul, on the left bank of the Tigris River that runs through the city.
Speaking at a press conference in Bartalla, a town east of Mosul, Staff General Talib al-Sheghati, who heads the Counter-Terrorism Service, announced “the liberation... of the left bank”.
Sheghati added however that while the east of the city could be considered under government control, some work remained to be done to flush out the last holdout jihadists.
The “important lines and important areas are finished,” he said, adding that “there is only a bit of the northern (front) remaining.”
Wednesday’s announcement marks the end of a phase in the operation launched on October 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the last major urban stronghold IS has in the country.
The offensive, Iraq’s largest military operation in years with tens of thousands of fighters involved, began with a focus on sparsely populated areas around Mosul.
CTS entered the city proper in November and encountered tougher than expected resistance from IS, whose fighters launched a huge number of suicide car bombs against advancing Iraqi forces.
The going was tough for weeks but a fresh push coordinated with other federal forces and backed by the US-led coalition was launched in December and yielded quick and decisive gains.
The west bank of Mosul is a bit smaller but is home to the narrow streets of the Old City - impassable to most military vehicles - and to some of the city’s traditionally most dyed-in-the-wool jihadist neighbourhoods.
Brigadier General Yahya Rasool also stressed that despite Sheghati’s announcement, there would be more fighting in east Mosul in the coming days.
“Sheghati is the head of CTS and he was talking about areas under CTS control. There are some neighbourhoods that are still being liberated and that could take a few days,” he told AFP.
All the bridges across the Tigris in Mosul have been either blown up by IS or destroyed by coalition air strikes, which has made it very difficult for Iraqi forces to resupply its fighters in the city’s east.