(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Iraqi government forces have pushed deeper in Mosul’s militant-held district of Old City as they are battling to purge ISIS Takfiri militants out of their last bastion in the country’s second largest city, warning civilians to stay inside and telling extremists to “surrender or die.”
Staff Major General Maan al-Saadi, a top commander in the elite Counter Terrorism Service, said Iraqi forces advanced into the Old City at 6:00 a.m. local time (0300 GMT) on Monday, and took control of new areas in the Faruq neighborhood.
He added that ISIS Takfiris are putting up fierce resistance in the wake of the Iraqi army’s territorial gains.
“ISIS resistance has been fierce. They have blocked every entrance, planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and booby-trapped houses our forces might be near. Penetrating was very difficult. Today the fighting is face to face,” Saadi pointed out.
Taking back the Old City of Mosul, a densely populated warren of narrow alleyways on the western side of Mosul, is crucial to recapturing the whole of the former ISIS stronghold in Iraq.
The United Nations says around 150,000 civilians are trapped in the neighborhood along with hundreds of ISIS militants.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on June 16 that members of the Takfiri ISIS terrorist group are holding more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians as human shields in the Old City of western Mosul.
The presiding UNHCR representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, told reporters in the Swiss city of Geneva that ISIS snipers try to kill anyone trying to leave the area, stressing that the small number of civilians who manage to escape are “deeply traumatized.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi forces have stationed their four-wheel drive Humvee military light trucks near Grand al-Nuri Mosque, where purported ISIS ringleader Ibrahim al-Samarrai aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave his famous speech on the formation of the terror group back in June 2014, and mounted speakers facing Mosul’s Old City.
The loudspeakers blared “You have only this choice: surrender or die” to ISIS militants. They also addressed civilians in the Old City, saying Iraqi forces “are about to end your suffering.”
The development came after Iraqi forces dropped nearly 500,000 leaflets over Mosul late last night, stating that government forces “have started attacking from all directions.”
The leaflets asked civilians to “stay away from open places and... take any opportunity that arises during the fighting” to escape.
International aid group Save the Children says some 50,000 children are trapped in the Old City of Mosul.
“They are running out of food and water, and face violence wherever they turn,” Ana Locsin, Iraq Country Director at the charity, said.
She added, “The impact of artillery and explosive weapons is likely to get even more deadly and indiscriminate, putting vulnerable children at greatest risk.”
Iraqi army soldiers and volunteer fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units, commonly known by their Arabic name, Hashd al-Sha’abi, have made sweeping gains against Takfiri ISIS elements since launching the Mosul operation on October 17, 2016.
The Iraqi forces took control of eastern Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting, and launched the battle in the west on February 19.
An estimated 862,000 people have been displaced from Mosul ever since the battle to retake the city began nine months ago. A total of 195,000 civilians have also returned, mainly to the liberated areas of eastern Mosul.