US-backed Iraqi forces yesterday captured Mosul’s al-Hurriya bridge, which leads to the Islamic State group-held old city center from the south, a military media officer said.
The al-Hurriya bridge is the second to be secured by the Iraqi forces in the city, after securing one located further south, in the offensive that started on the western part of Mosul on Feb. 19.
“We control the western end of the bridge,” said a senior media officer with Rapid Response, the elite unit of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior leading the charge through the districts alongside the Tigris River.
All of Mosul’s five bridges over the Tigris have been destroyed, but their capture and repair would help the offensive against the militants, who have controlled the northern Iraqi city since 2014.
Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris on Feb. 19.
Defeating Islamic State group in Mosul would crush the Iraqi wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2014, over parts of Iraq and Syria.
Major General Haider al-Maturi of the Iraqi Federal Police Commandos Division on Sunday told The Associated Press that his troops encountered the heaviest clashes yet with the militants since start of the new push.
The militants sent at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching the troops, he said, adding that the militants are moving from house to house and deploying snipers.
The Federal Police are closing in on the city’s main government complex in the Dawasa neighborhood and Iraq’s special forces are attempting to push into the Shuhada and Mansour neighborhoods.
In related news, The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement on Sunday that it was “seriously concerned” about reports of chemical weapons use in Mosul.
“The OPCW has asked Iraqi authorities for more information and has offered its assistance to the Iraqi investigation,” the statement said.
The alleged attack occurred last week in eastern Mosul, an area declared fully liberated by Iraqi forces in January.
The UN said the alleged use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, would be a war crime and a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
The number of people fleeing the fighting in west Mosul has topped 45,000, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The figures indicate the number of people who came from west Mosul to sites for the displaced from Feb. 25, when the arrivals began, through Sunday, it said.
More than 200,000 are currently displaced as a result of the battle to retake the city, which was launched on Oct. 17, the organization said.
Additional reporting by AP and AFP
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