Agence France Presse
BAGHDAD: An Iraqi commander expects to dislodge Daesh (ISIS) from Mosul in May despite resistance from militants in the densely populated Old City district.
The battle should be completed “in a maximum of three weeks,” the Iraqi army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi, was quoted as saying by state-run newspaper Al-Sabah Sunday.
A U.S.-led international coalition is providing air and ground support for the offensive in Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq.
Daesh has lost most of the city’s districts since the offensive began in October and is now surrounded in the northwestern districts, including the historic Old City center.
The United Nations believes up to half a million people remain in the area controlled by the militants, 400,000 of whom are in the Old City with little food and water and no access to hospitals.
The militants have dug in between the civilians, often launching deadly counterattacks to repel forces closing in on the Old City’s grand Al-Nouri Mosque, from where Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria.
A group of 36 Yazidi survivors had been rescued after three years of “slavery” under Daesh’s rule, the United Nations said Sunday.
Since Friday, the women and girls from the group had been receiving lodging, clothing, medical and psychological aid in Duhok, a Kurdish city north of Mosul, a statement from U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande said.
The U.N. estimates that up to 1,500 Yazidi women and girls remain in captivity, suffering abuse.
Iraqi forces estimate the number of Daesh fighters still in Mosul at 200 to 300, mostly foreigners, down from nearly 6,000 when the offensive started, but they are still capable of deadly counterattacks on the tens of thousands of soldiers and paramilitary groups arrayed against them.
A Federal Police brigade commander and 18 other members of the Interior Ministry force were killed in attacks on two positions at the edge of the Old City Friday, military sources said Sunday. Federal Police took back the positions Saturday but the ministry has sacked a commander for failing to fend off the counterattacks, the sources said.
The U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Service and Federal Police are the main forces fighting inside Mosul.
Regular Iraqi army units are taking part in battles outside the city, alongside Shiite volunteers trained and armed by Iran, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Sunni tribes.
The total number of fighters aligned against Daesh in Mosul exceeds 100,000.
Several thousand have been killed so far in the battle, both civilians and military, according to international aid organizations.
The total number of people displaced from Mosul since October is close to 400,000, about a fifth of Mosul’s population before its capture by Daesh.