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Focus on al-Nuri Mosque as residents flee Mosul

ISIL positions in city's west targeted as Iraqi troops close in on mosque from where Baghdadi declared his caliphate.

Baghdadi

Iraqi army helicopters are firing rockets at ISIL positions in Mosul's Old City as troops on the ground close in on al-Nuri Mosque, a centuries-old structure famous for its leaning minaret.

Federal Police troops advanced past the train station in western Mosul closer to the mosque on Sunday. A police commander said they were very close to taking control of it.

Residents fled from the area, carrying bags of belongings and picking their way through the wrecked buildings as shells and gunfire echoed behind them. Most of them were women and children.

"Federal Police and Rapid Response forces resumed their advance after halting operations due to bad weather. The troops have a target of retaking the rest of the Old City," a police spokesman said.

The battle to recapture the last stronghold of ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group, in Iraq has now entered its sixth month.

Iraqi government forces, backed by US advisers, artillery and air support, have cleared the east and half of western Mosul and are now focused on controlling the Old City.

Recent fighting has targeted the strategic al-Nuri Mosque. Its capture would be a blow for ISIL, also known as ISIS, as it was from there that leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in July 2014 after the group had seized chunks of Iraq and Syria.

US officials estimate about 2,000 ISIL fighters remain inside Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, resisting with mortar fire, snipers and suicide car bombs that attack army positions.

The black ISIL flag still flew from the mosque's minaret on Sunday.

Residents flee

As many as 600,000 civilians may be caught inside the city with ISIL fighters.

About 255,000 people have been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since October, including more than 100,000 since the military campaign in western Mosul began on February 19, according to UN figures.

The last week has seen the highest level of displacement yet, with 32,000 displaced between March 12 and 15.

Federal Police moved into the city on foot from near the train station towards the Old City, negotiating rubble-filled streets.

General Khalid al-Obedi, the police commander, said: "We are advancing toward the Old City. Their resistance is weakening. They are mostly using car bombs and that shows they are losing on the ground."

Meanwhile, Federal Police arrested Husam Sheet al-Jabouri, the local chief of Diwan al-Hisba, an ISIL unit responsible for enforcing strict Islamic rules, in Mosul's Bab al-Sijin area, a police statement said.

Mosul


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