Iraqi forces say they have moved closer to taking control of the jihadist-held city of Mosul. Extremists reportedly continue to use civilians as human shields as they put up fierce resistance.
After more than a two-week offensive, Iraqi troops on Tuesday were poised to start retaking the city from "Islamic State" (IS) militants who have held the city since the summer of 2014, a top commander said.
"Now is the beginning of the true liberation of the city of Mosul," the commander of the elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, Staff General Taleb Sheghati al-Khenani, told Iraqiya state television.
"Our final goal is arriving at Mosul and liberating the city," he said, speaking in Gogjali, a village situated on the eastern edge of the city, the last IS stronghold in Iraq.
According to Reuters news agency, the elite force has already succeeded in capturing the state television building in Mosul, the first important building in the city to be retaken.
Another special forces general said, however, that his troops were meeting fierce resistance from IS militants, who had blocked off the more central Karama district with concrete walls to stop the advance, as well as placing bombs along the road into the city.
The news of the continued advance by Iraqi troops comes amid reports from the United Nations that the IS jihadists had killed 40 more former Iraqi Security Force (ISF) members and dumped their bodies in the Tigris river. The killings bring to 296 the number of former security officers killed by IS since last Tuesday, according to the UN.
UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the extremists had also tried to transport some 25,000 civilians from Hamam al-Alil, to the south of Mosul, to the city on trucks and minibuses, apparently in order to use them as human shields.
She said, however, that warplanes from the US-led coalition had forced many of the vehicles to turn back, thus largely thwarting the attempt.
Shamdasani said there was "a pattern" of IS having civilians surround its offices and bases to frustrate military operations against them.
Iraqi forces, alongside Kurdish peshmerga, Sunni tribesmen and Shiite militias, have been converging on Mosul on multiple fronts in an offensive to drive IS from the city that began more than two weeks ago. The operation is expected to take weeks or even months.
IS captured Mosul along with much other Iraqi territory in a lightning offensive in the summer of 2014, but the group has since lost much of the ground it had gained to Iraqi forces, severely denting any aspirations for a so-called "caliphate" across the Middle East.
tj/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)