MOSUL, Iraq: U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were fighting their way through a government complex in the heart of western Mosul after storming the buildings in an overnight raid, and were facing fierce counterattacks Tuesday from Daesh (ISIS). According to Lt. Gen. Abdel-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah, the troops hoisted an Iraqi flag on the complex of buildings in the Dawasa neighborhood earlier in the morning, hailing the federal police units who stormed the compound as heroes. By noon, troops on the ground said the complex has not yet been fully secured and that they are battling a wave of intense Daesh counterattacks.
Sgt. Azam Ibrahim of the federal police was one of the first troops to storm the Mosul government complex. His unit then pulled back to a base on the edge of Mosul’s Tayran neighborhood, saying the clashes were still underway at the complex later Tuesday.
“We were pulled back because we had killed and wounded,” Ibrahim told the Associated Press. “The [Iraqi] forces there are surrounded, the Humvees cannot reach them, nor can the ambulances.”
Daesh snipers continued to fire at the main government building after it was stormed, restricting the movements of the soldiers, and forces pushing further into western Mosul came under rifle and rocket fire.
“The fighting is strong because most of them are foreigners and they have nowhere to go,” said Al-Moqdadi al-Saeedi, the head of a sniper unit for the Rapid Response.
Some of Daesh’s foreign fighters are trying to flee Mosul, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler said.
“The game is up,” Isler told Reuters at the Qayyarah West Airfield, south of the city. “They have lost this fight and what you’re seeing is a delaying action.”
The consistent advance – more than two weeks since the new push started to clear Mosul’s western side of Daesh militants – has been a major blow to the militants who once controlled nearly a third of Iraq.
Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January after officially launching the operation to retake the city in October.
Yar Allah, who commands the army operations in Ninevah province, where Mosul is the provincial capital, said the troops now also control the western side of a second bridge across the Tigris River, known as the Al-Hurriya Bridge.
Last week, the troops reached the first bridge from the south in western Mosul, known locally as the 4th Bridge. U.S.-led airstrikes disabled all of Mosul’s five bridges last year in a bid to isolate the militants.
Hours after announcing Tuesday’s advance, Iraqi state TV said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the troops in Mosul. “They have two choices, first either they surrender and they will have fair trial and the second choice they will be killed,” Abadi told reporters in Mosul as he was clad in a black counterterrorism forces uniform. “Some are escaping but even the escape path is closed and they have no hope, so that is why they should surrender.”
He called upon Mosul residents to cooperate with the security forces, vowing to rebuild their city and to restore services. The prime minister is to visit to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump later this month.
Iraqi forces also recaptured the central bank branch and the museum where three years ago the militants filmed themselves destroying statues. Among the symbolic buildings retaken overnight was one that had served as Daesh’s main court, known for sentences including stonings, throwing people off roofs and chopping off hands, reflecting the group’s hard-line ideology.