Iraqi forces belonging to the U.S.-backed Operation Inherent Resolve coalition started their final push to retake Mosul Sunday, in what is expected to be the last fight for the country’s second largest city.
Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) and federal police pushed their way into Mosul’s Old City neighborhood. The urban area is densely packed with narrow streets and tight corners, creating a close-quarters fight that could be violent and lengthy.
“The operation now is about street fighting. Air and artillery strikes will be limited because the area is heavily populated and the buildings fragile,” said CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan, according to Dubai’s al-Hadath TV.
Adding to the dangerous situation are the approximately 100,000 civilians who are believed to still be inside the Old City. Iraqi forces mounted large speakers on humvees in an attempt to direct civilians to safe zones. U.N.officials believe that the civilians are starved and lack access to water.
The exact number of ISIS forces that remain in the Old City is unknown. The tight corridors and dilapidated city streets have allowed the group to dig in and set up sniper posts.
Iraqi forces expect significant casualties, both military and civilian.
The assault on the Old City represents the final step in retaking Mosul, which has acted as ISIS’s de facto capital in Iraq since June 2014. A second operation against ISIS’s Syria capital, Raqqa, is also ongoing. The seizure of both cities will be major victories for the coalition, as ISIS maintains a significant presence in the Syrian-Iraqi border regions. Furthermore, it is likely the group will resort to insurgent tactics as it continues to lose territory, meaning a complete defeat may take some time.
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