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Heavy clashes as Iraqi forces storm Mosul university

Iraqi special forces have entered the Mosul University complex as they attempt to repel "Islamic State" fighters. Most eastern parts of the city are now under Iraqi government troops' control.

Elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) troops began a new advance on Friday by smashing through a wall surrounding the campus with a bulldozer, allowing dozens of CTS soldiers to enter carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Heavy clashes were reported by news agencies inside the compound as "Islamic State" (IS) fighters continued to defend the university, located in the eastern half of the city.

"We broke through the terrorists' defenses, and we destroyed their lines and their units and their bases," said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi, who was overseeing Friday's assault.

Another military source told the German news agency dpa on condition of anonymity that most of the buildings at the university had been recaptured.

Left in ruins

The 1960s-era university, the second largest education institution in Iraq, had been shut and was converted into a base by IS militants. Residents said it has been largely destroyed by airstrikes and artillery fire.

An Iraqi military official told Reuters the campus was the jihadis' most important base on the eastern side of the city. IS took control of Mosul, which is split in two by the Tigris River, in mid-2014, and still control the part of the city on the western side of the river.

Military officials said over the past two years, IS fighters have built tunnels and getaways across the city, including on the university grounds, in preparation for a recapture attempt by Iraqi forces.

Irak Mossul Universität Irakische Armee (REUTERS)

Clashes continued throughout the day around the Mosul university campus, on the eastern side of the city.

Second bridge reached

Just north of the campus, the Hadba district was also captured on Friday, along with the neighborhoods of al-Sadria, al-Nasr and al-Faisalia. Iraqi forces also reached the second of five bridges over the river, the military said.

"The terrorism-combat service took control of the Freedom Bridge and raised the Iraqi flag on it," said Abdul Amir Rasheed, the commander of the Iraqi campaign in Mosul.

The advance to capture Mosul - the last IS bastion in Iraq - has gathered pace since the New Year, after the Iraqi army employed new tactics to avoid suicide car bombings, US and Iraqi military officials have said.

In recent weeks, militants have attempted to hamper the Mosul campaign by carrying out counterattacks, mainly by suicide bombings in the city and other parts of Iraq.

The wider city of Mosul has been largely surrounded by Iraqi troops during their three-month advance, but army chiefs say the advance on the western side won't begin until the eastern half is fully recaptured.

Watch video 01:41

Iraqi forces reach Tigris in Mosul offensive

mm/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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