Iraq’s security forces began a new push Thursday on the partially Islamic State-held city of Mosul, in a final sprint to defeat the terrorist group by the end of the month.
Operations to retake Mosul have dragged on for nearly seven months. The push on the western half of the city has been particularly grueling, and has claimed hundreds of Iraqi lives. Western Mosul is much more densely populated with civilians, and has narrower streets. This environment has turned the battle into a bloody street-by-street slog, with limited use of armored vehicles.
The new offensive involves advancing on the western part of the city from the north to effectively besiege the militant group in a corner of Mosul which contains the cities grand mosque. The mosque holds major importance to the terrorist group, as it is the site where ISIS leader Abu-Bakr Al-Bagdadi first declared the formation of the caliphate in 2014.
Iraqi forces also hope to split ISIS’s defenses and ease the advance of its special counter-terrorism force into the historic parts of the city, where ISIS appears poised to make its last stand. The battle should be over “in a maximum of three weeks” Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanmi told reporters Monday.
U.S. defense officials also told The New York Times the assault was planned during a period of clear weather to allow the maximum use of U.S. airpower. The U.S. will have to remain cautious however, after ISIS previewed a tactic of baiting airstrikes on civilians in March.
The United Nations estimates approximately half a million civilians remain inside ISIS held areas, and the group has proven adept at using civilians as human shields to slow the Iraqi’s advance.
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