Iraqi military forces raised the nation's flag over government buildings in western Mosul on Tuesday before fending off a withering counterattack from Islamic State insurgents being driven from a crucial stronghold.
Still, the government offensive was the latest in a series of recent gains that have increased pressure on the militants, who took the city by storm three years ago.
Iraq’s elite Rapid Response force and the federal police liberated the governor’s building, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yar Allah said in a statement. The Federal Police command told the Iraqi News service that government forces took over the water and sewage department’s offices in western Mosul’s district of Dindan, hoisting Iraqi flags above the facility. The command said the forces also recaptured the police directorate and the courts complex.
Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition supporting the advance, said he was encouraged by the Iraqi gains.
"Iraqi security forces are moving very rapidly right now," he told Iraq's Rudaw news service. "The enemy is not able to stop their advances."
Iraqi Maj. Gen. Najeem al-Jabbouri said government forces are now in control of both ends of two of the five bridges in Mosul, all “disabled” by coalition airstrikes. The government requested the bombings to discourage militants from crossing over to eastern Mosul, an area liberated in January. Jabbouri estimated fewer than 900 militants remain in Mosul.
Dorrian said the only capability the militants have used with success is drone attacks, a practice he said was in decline. Jabbouri credited a U.S.-supplied "interference machine" with paralyzing Islamic State's drone warfare.
"The Americans have brought in a very advanced machine to the right bank of Mosul," Jabbouri told Rudaw. "ISIS can no longer send even one drone into the sky."
Intense fighting marked Tuesday's battle for control of Mosul's government buildings, however. Sgt. Azam Ibrahim told the Associated Press that his federal police unit was one of the first troops to storm the Mosul government complex. His unit then pulled back to a base on the edge of Mosul’s Tayran neighborhood, and the clashes were still underway at the complex later Tuesday.
“We were pulled back because we had killed and wounded,” Ibrahim said. “The (Iraqi) forces there are surrounded, the Humvees cannot reach them, nor can the ambulances.”
The humanitarian emergency has continued to expand. The U.N. Office for Humanitarian Coordination said 42,000 people were displaced in the week that ended Sunday. It's the highest number since the assault to retake Mosul began last fall. The office said 13,350 people were displaced on March 3 alone. The U.N. estimates about 750,000 civilians remain trapped in their western Mosul homes.
Mosul is Iraq's second-largest city and was the last major urban center controlled by the Islamic State. The militants remain in control of scattered sections of rural Iraq as well as areas of war-torn Syria.