Iraqi forces advance at Mosul University, take areas along Tigris: officials

Sat Jan 14, 2017 4:07pm EST
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By Isabel Coles and John Davison

MOSUL, Iraq/BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi special forces drove back Islamic State militants in the Mosul University campus on Saturday, while elite police units took over large areas along the east bank of the Tigris river, military officials said.

The head of Iraq's Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said security forces were close to seizing the entire east bank of the Tigris, which bisects Mosul north to south. That gain will bring at least half of Islamic State's last major stronghold in Iraq back under government control.

Iraqi forces have made rapid advances since the new year, as part of a nearly three-month, U.S.-backed offensive.

For the ultra-hardline Islamic State, losing Mosul would probably spell the end of the Iraqi side of its self-styled caliphate, which it declared in 2014.

The military will be able to begin attacks on western Mosul, which Islamic State still fully controls, once it has captured the eastern bank of the river. The militants have fought back fiercely with car bombs and snipers, and have used civilians as cover.

An air raid during the week targeting a senior IS militant killed up to 30 people, residents said late on Friday.

Islamic State has also carried out attacks in Baghdad where a string of explosions in the last two weeks has killed dozens of people.

Another blast hit central Baghdad late on Saturday, killing at least one person, police sources said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.   Continued...

A member of Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) carries a rocket launcher at the University of Mosul during a battle with Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq, January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad