Iraqi government forces killed the Islamic State commander of Mosul’s Old City on Tuesday as the battle for the militants’ last stronghold in Iraq focused on a bridge crossing the Tigris river.
As fighting intensified on Tuesday after the previous day’s heavy rains, civilians streamed out of western neighborhoods recaptured by the government, cold and hungry but relieved to be free of the militants’ grip.
IS snipers were slowing the advance of Interior Ministry Rapid Response units on the Iron Bridge linking western and eastern Mosul but the elite forces were still inching forward, officers said.
Government forces also pushed into areas of western Mosul, Islamic State’s last redoubt in the city that has been the de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate, reports Reuters.
Federal police killed the military commander of the Old City, Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary, during operations to clear Bab al-Tob district, a federal police officer said. With many IS leaders having already retreated from Mosul, Ansary’s death comes as blow to the militants as they defend their shrinking area of control street-by-street and house-by-house.
Capturing the Iron Bridge would mean Iraqi forces hold three of the five bridges in Mosul that span the Tigris, all of which have been damaged by the militants and U.S.-led air strikes. The southernmost two have already been retaken.
“We are still moving toward the Iron Bridge. We are taking out snipers hiding in the surrounding building, we are still pushing for the Iron Bridge,” Brigadier General Mahdi Abbas Abdullah of the Rapid Response force told Reuters.
Near the Mosul Museum, Iraq forces used armored vehicles and tanks to attack snipers pinning down troops clearing areas around the bridge.
An air strike targeting one Islamic State position hit a building, engulfing nearby troops in smoke and dust.