Iraqi forces capture more IS-held areas in west Mosul
Iraqi forces recaptured two neighbourhoods in west Mosul on Thursday, ramping up pressure on the Islamic State group holed up in the Old City, army commanders said.
"The forces completed the liberation of al-Thawra neighbourhood," Sabah al-Noman, spokesman for the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, told AFP. The neighbourhood lies just west of the Old City.
The Joint Operations Command coordinating the nationwide fight against the militants said the Nasr neighbourhood was also retaken on Thursday.
Iraqi forces also killed a senior IS operative who had been in charge of chemical weapons for the group in Mosul with a guided missile strike in the Zanjili neighbourhood, the head of Iraq's federal police, Raed Shakir, told AFP.
A day earlier, Iraqi forces working alongside US and Australian military advisers were targeted by IS using a low-level chemical agent in west Mosul. No deaths were reported.
The loss of Mosul would be a death blow to the "caliphate" IS proclaimed after capturing the city in a massive offensive in June 2014. The group now only control seven percent of Iraq, down from the 40 percent of the national territory over which they ruled three years ago, Iraq's military says.
The only two other significant towns IS still holds are Hawija and Tal Afar. The militants also control territory in remote areas of western Iraq, near the Syrian border.
Iraqi forces launched a fresh push against IS-held villages there on Thursday, as part of a months-old operation to retake areas along the Euphrates in western Anbar province.
A senior officer said the forces involved in the operation included the army, local tribal fighters, and military advisers from the US-led coalition assisting Iraq in the anti-IS war.
Iraqi forces in mid-October launched a huge operation - their largest in years - to retake second city Mosul.
They retook the side of the city that lies east of the Tigris river in January and launched a push on remaining IS fighters in western Mosul, which is more densely populated and has seen fierce fighting.
On the west bank, Iraqi forces control southern neighbourhoods and are slowly surrounding the Old City, whose narrow streets are expected to make federal operations very difficult.
An estimated 400,000 civilians are believed to still be there, unwilling or unable to leave because any escape would be too dangerous or because IS are using them as human shields.