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IRAQI government forces continued to battle Isis militants in a small area of Mosul yesterday, after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited to congratulate the troops on their progress.
Brigadier-General Haider Fadhil of the Iraqi special forces said that, even after the militants are defeated in the last pocket under their control, state forces will have to carry out clearing operations to root out sleeper cells and defuse booby traps.
Iraqi commanders believe that hundreds of Isis fighters remain inside the group’s last enclave and are using their families as human shields in a fight to the death.
“There’s no accurate estimate for the Isis fighters and the families who are stuck there,” said senior special forces commander Lieutenant-General Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi.
He said that most civilians left in the Old City are believed to be Isis family members, “but we will not accuse them of anything. If they don’t carry weapons, they are civilians.”
The battle for Mosul has killed thousands and displaced more than 897,000 people and the UN said yesterday that there is no end in sight to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
It said that thousands of Mosul residents will remain displaced from the city after the fight is concluded because of “extensive damage caused during the conflict.”
Air strikes, artillery and militant bombings have destroyed thousands of buildings as well as key infrastructure in Mosul, with, according to the Interior Ministry, more than half of all buildings in the west of the city, where the fighting was heaviest, damaged or destroyed.
Mosul fell to Isis in 2014 when it captured much of north-western Iraq and subsequently declared a caliphate in the territory under its control in Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake Mosul last October and the eastern half of the city was declared liberated by late January.
The push into western Mosul began the following month.
Government forces celebrated recent gains on Sunday, but Prime Minister Abadi stopped short of declaring an outright victory.
“We are glad to see normal life return for the citizens. This is the result of our heroic fighters’ sacrifices.”
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