Iraqi forces capture one of four districts in IS-held enclave of Mosul

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on Friday captured one of four districts in the Islamic State-held enclave of Mosul, a military statement said.

Elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) units took Sihha district about a week into operations to dislodge militants from the enclave and complete the offensive to capture Mosul, now in its eighth month.

With the loss of Sihha, the enclave shrunk to three districts along the west bank of the Tigris – the densely populated Old City Center, Zanjili, and Medical Town.

Iraqi government forces retook east Mosul in January and launched a new campaign on May 27 to capture the enclave where around 200,000 people are trapped in atrocious conditions.

The Mosul offensive began in October with air and ground support from an international coalition led by the United States. It took much longer than expected because the Islamic State is fighting among civilians, slowing the advance of the attackers.

At least seven civilians were killed and 23 injured by Islamic State mortar shells as they attempted to flee Zanjili on Thursday, Iraqi police said.

The fall of Mosul would indeed mark the end of the Iraqi half of the ”caliphate” declared in 2014 on parts of Iraq and Syria by the leader of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a speech of a historic mosque in the old town.

In Syria, Kurdish forces backed by US airstrikes besiege Islamic State forces in the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of militants there.

Around 700,000 people, about a third of Mosul’s pre-war population, have already fled, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Stephen Powell

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