Mosul battle will be finished within days - Iraqi army chief

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Members of elite Counter-Terrorism Service in the al-Islah al-Zaraye area of western Mosul on 10 May 2017Image source, AFP
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Troops have faced fierce resistance from militants using suicide car bombs and snipers

Iraqi security forces are only days away from completing the operation to recapture Mosul from so-called Islamic State, the army's chief of staff says.

Lt Gen Othman al-Ghanimi told the BBC he hoped the jihadist group would be defeated in the city before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins on 26 May.

Recent gains in the north meant the remaining militants were being squeezed into an ever smaller area, he added.

Mosul fell to IS in 2014 and is its last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

Pro-government forces launched a major offensive to retake the city in October with the support of US-led coalition air strikes.

They managed to take full control of the eastern half of Mosul in January and started an assault on the west the following month.

Fewer than 1,000 militants are now besieged in several north-western districts, including the Old City, along with as many as 450,000 civilians.

"The security forces are carrying out a big and effective effort. I say that Daesh (IS) will be finished in days, God willing," Gen Ghanimi told BBC Arabic's Feras Kilani.

"I say that the rest of Mosul will be liberated before the holy month of Ramadan."

A week ago, units from the army's 9th Armoured Division and the interior ministry's Rapid Response Force opened a new front in the north after the advance into the densely-populated Old City from the south and west stalled.

Image source, AFP
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Iraqi security forces launched an assault on the western half of Mosul in February

Progress in the north was initially limited by fierce resistance from militants using suicide car bombs and snipers, but Gen Ghanimi said gains were now being made.

On Wednesday, police commander Lt Gen Raed Jawdat said the Rapid Response Force had stormed the entrances to the Iqtisadiyeen district, south-east of Mushairfa, and killed dozens of militants in heavy clashes.

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The United Nations has said the battle has left more than 8,000 civilians dead or wounded, but that figure only includes people transferred to medical facilities.

Iraq's military does not release casualty figures, but a US general said at the end of March that 774 Iraqi security personnel had been killed and 4,600 wounded.

More than 620,000 civilians have also been displaced by the fighting, among them 414,000 from western Mosul, the Iraqi authorities say.

Media caption,

Shifa'a, 8, went to an IS school

Most have taken refuge in nearby camps and reception centres. Others are staying with relatives and friends.

The UN says another 100,000 to 200,000 could flee the final battle for the Old City.

On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern for civilians inside IS-led districts, saying they were facing "very stark choices" as supplies of food and water ran out.

Image source, Reuters
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More than 414,000 civilians have been displaced by the battle for western Mosul

"This population is not only exposed to the immediate dangers of the conflict itself and being either targeted or hit as collateral damage, but is also facing the effects of just no longer really having much access to the basic essentials that they need to live," deputy Middle East director Patrick Hamilton told Reuters news agency.

"People don't have enough to eat, don't have water," he added. "Babies, elderly and so on of course they are very vulnerable and may already be dying."