Iraqi special forces battling 'Islamic State' in Mosul have reached the Tigris for the first time since the three-month offensive to recapture the city began. The militants have responded with bombings in Baghdad.
Units of Iraq's elite counter terrorism service (CTS) fought their way to the eastern bank of the Tigris river on Sunday, a military spokesman said.
While the push marks a symbolic victory for Iraqi troops, the "Islamic State" (IS) militants they are fighting against still control some neighborhoods in Mosul's east, as well as the entire western half of the city. It was the first time Iraqi troops had made it to the Tigris - which divides Mosul down the middle - since the launch of a US-backed campaign to rid the city of jihadists last October.
The CTS units are not expected to advance across the river without first securing control of the rest of the eastern districts. But having access to the river's shores could make it more difficult for "IS" militants to resupply the eastern front with fighters and weapons from the west bank.
Iraqi forces backed by US air power have made significant progress in and around Mosul over the past week. The city is the last major center in Iraq still controlled by "IS."
Brett McGurk, Washington's envoy to the US-led coalition backing the Iraqi offensive, said in a tweet that the militant's defenses in eastern Mosul were "showing signs of collapse."
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had promised that his forces would rid Iraq of "IS" by the end of 2016 but later said that eliminating the jihadists would take several more months. Iraqi forces in Mosul have met with fierce resistance from extremist fighters, estimated at up to 7,000 before the start of the offensive, as well as sniper fire, car bombs and booby traps.
Under pressure after recent losses in Mosul, "IS" militants have stepped up their bombing attacks in other parts of the country. In Baghdad, a suicide attacker killed 13 people when he detonated an explosive-laden car in a market in the mainly Shiite Muslim eastern Jamila district, police said. "IS" later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Hours later, a second suicide bomber blew himself up at a market in another mostly Shiite neighborhood, killing seven people. The militant group claimed that attack as well, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence Group.
The attacks were the latest in a spate of similar bombings that have killed nearly 100 people in Iraqi cities over the past week.