Category: Gold Eagle Forces in Iraq


2017-09-21

BAGHDAD – Iraq has begun an offensive to retake Hawija, one of two remaining bastions of the Islamic State (IS) group in the country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday.

“At the dawn of a new day, we announce the launch of the first stage of the liberation of Hawija, in accordance with our commitment to our people to liberate all Iraqi territory and eradicate Daesh’s terrorist groups,” he said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

“Greetings to all of our forces, who are waging several battles of liberation at the same time and who are winning victory after victory and this will be another, with the help of God,” he said.

Iraqi forces have now forced IS out of all its Iraqi territories except Hawija, 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Baghdad, and several pockets of territory near the border with Syria. The town was one of the first areas to fall under IS control in 2014.

Artillery fire was heard Thursday morning, with the army heading towards Sharqat, southwest of Hawija, an AFP reporter said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=84966.

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Sep 09,2017

MOSUL, Iraq — Two months since Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from the Daesh terror group extremists, Mohammed Seddiq’s bullet-riddled car is still off the road and his fruit and vegetable shop has yet to reopen.

Much of Iraq’s second city lies in ruins and many businesses are still at a standstill, even those that produced the famous muslin cotton fabric for which Mosul was renowned before the extremists seized it in 2014.

Three years ago, Seddiq, 32, owned two cars, but the extremists set fire to one and the other was damaged by mortar shells and bullets.

With all the garages still closed in his west Mosul neighborhood, he sought out a mechanic in the industrial zone in the city’s east which was less severely damaged by fighting.

He expects the repairs to cost $1,000. In the meantime he will have to pay for taxis using his savings because “the state has announced that it will reimburse for cars and houses, but up to now nothing” has been paid.

Many of the cars awaiting repairs at Ghezwan Aqil’s workshop were damaged when bulldozer-driving extremists used them to form barricades against advancing Iraqi troops.

Their owners cannot afford to buy new cars and are prepared to wait one or two months for the repairs instead.

Aqil says that sometimes he will reduce a customer’s bill by half depending on their circumstances.

Even after Mosul’s recapture life is uncertain and insecurity is rife.

“There have been many burglaries,” says taxi driver Mohammed Salem.

“And people have been detained by unidentified groups. No one knows what happened to them,” the 33-year-old adds.

“There are regular problems between the various armed forces, especially the paramilitary units,” Hossam Eddine Al Abbar, a member of the provincial council of Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, tells AFP.

The presence of the Hashed Al Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitary units, dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, has stirred tensions in the Sunni-majority city.

Without genuine reconciliation between communities, there are fears that the country could once again descend into violence.

“The best way to control [armed groups] is to integrate them into the regular forces that enjoy much more trust among citizens than paramilitary forces,” Abbar said.

Omar Al Allaf, a local tribal dignitary who oversees Hashed Al Shaabi units, rejects the idea.

His men will never join the police because “they are infiltrated by terrorists”, he says.

In 2014, as Daesh staged a rapid advance across northern Iraq, police and military personnel abandoned their posts to the extremists with barely a fight.

That allowed the group to establish its “caliphate” across parts of Syria and a third of Iraq’s territory including Mosul.

Today, many police in the Iraqi city are demanding their reinstatement, but the process of identification and investigation of each one takes time, Abbar said.

“More than 13,000 policemen have yet to return to their jobs despite our requests to the authorities in Baghdad,” he added.

Mosul’s famed Old City was reduced to rubble by the fighting and the iconic leaning minaret of its Al Nuri Mosque, the image of which adorns the 10,000 dinar note, left in ruins.

For many of Mosul’s displaced, it is impossible to envisage a return to a city where, in addition to finding nothing left of their previous life, they risk losing more.

In the past year, a million Iraqis have fled their homes in Nineveh province.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://www.jordantimes.com/news/region/slow-recovery-iraq%E2%80%99s-mosul-after-daesh-ouster.

August 16, 2017

Some 40,000 Iraqi troops are preparing for military operations to retake the Iraqi town of Tal Afar from Daesh, the Anadolu Agency reported.

Iraqi authorities have announced that the town, located 80 kilometers west of Mosul, will be the next target in the war against Daesh following the recapture of Mosul.

Tal Afar, which had a population of 200,000, has seen intense aerial bombardment to clear the way for ground troops to retake the town completely. At dawn today US planes stepped up air raids ahead of a ground offensive to drive out the 1,500-2,000 Daesh fighters currently in the area.

Following the announcement, armored and elite units were said to be heading towards the Tal Afar which is some 70 kilometers from the Turkish border.

A coalition of different security personnel that includes the police, the military and various fighting units has gathered according to Iraqi military officials. Disputes regarding the participation of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sponsored umbrella organisation composed of some 40 militias that have been accused of committing numerous human rights abuse on the battlefield, have not been resolved.

Turkey, which has a close affinity with Tal Afar’s predominantly ethnic Turkmen population, opposes the involvement of Shia paramilitary groups fighting with Iraqi forces, some of which are also backed by Iran. The sight of the build-up of troops not too far from the Turkish border may cause further irritation to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has previously said that the involvement of Shia militia was a “red-line”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170816-40000-troops-preparing-to-take-iraqi-town-from-daesh/.

June 30, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — With anti-Islamic State group forces on the offensive in both the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday declared an end to the extremist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

But even as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made the bold assertion, deadly fighting continued in Mosul — filling field hospitals and forcing hundreds to flee. “We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state. The liberation of Mosul proves that,” al-Abadi said on Twitter, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “We will not relent. Our brave forces will bring victory.”

Across the border in in Raqqa, coalition officials predicted a long, bloody battle ahead for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, whose fighters succeeded in completely encircling the militants’ de-facto capital Thursday. U.S.-led coalition officials estimated that as many as 2,500 IS fighters remained in the city.

Beginning at dawn, Iraqi forces began a push deeper into Mosul’s Old City, where IS fighters were making their last stand. The Iraqi troops moved slowly along foot paths strewn with rubble, twisted metal and downed power lines. Many front-line positions were only reachable by climbing in and out of homes, across roof tops and through holes blasted into concrete walls.

By early afternoon they had reached al-Nuri Mosque, at once a hugely symbolic win and a ruined prize. The site is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance in July 2014, declaring the self-styled Islamic “caliphate” encompassing territories then-held by the extremists in Syria and Iraq.

But IS destroyed the mosque and its iconic leaning minaret last week, Iraqi and coalition officials said. The Islamic State group blamed a U.S. airstrike for the blasts, a claim rejected by a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition who said coalition planes “did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.”

The fight for the Old City has seen some of the most difficult urban combat yet for Iraqi forces in the campaign against IS. Eight months into the Mosul offensive, IS now holds less than two square kilometers (0.8 square miles) of the city, but the advances have come at considerable cost.

Damaged and destroyed houses dot the Old City neighborhoods retaken by Iraqi forces and the stench of rotting bodies rises from beneath collapsed buildings. “There are hundreds of bodies under the rubble,” said special forces Maj. Dhia Thamir. “But they are all Daesh.”

Special forces Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi acknowledged that civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery in the recent fighting. “Of course there is collateral damage, it is always this way in war,” he said. “The houses are very old, so any bombardment causes them to collapse completely.”

U.S.-led coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters at the Pentagon that “the Old City still remains a difficult, dense, suffocating fight — tight alley ways with booby traps, civilians, and (IS) fighters around every corner.”

Still, he said he expected victory to be “imminent,” predicting it would come “in days rather than weeks.” Even after Mosul is retaken, however, IS still controls significant pockets of territory in Iraq that Iraqi forces say will require many more months of fighting to liberate.

Some 300 IS fighters remain holed up inside the last Mosul districts the militants hold, along with an estimated 50,000 civilians, according to the United Nations. The civilians who managed to escape Thursday fled on foot in waves. Soldiers shouted at men to lift their shirts to show they were not wearing explosives and rummaged through the few possessions people carried with them: identify papers, family photos, baby formula, diapers and clothing.

Nearly 1,000 civilians fled the Old City on Thursday, according to Col. Ali al-Kenani, an Iraqi intelligence officer at a west Mosul screening center. Families covered in dust huddled in the shade of half-destroyed storefronts waiting for flat-bed trucks to move them to camps.

“We saw so many bodies stuck under the rubble as we fled,” said Muhammed Hamoud who escaped the Old City with his wife and two children. “One man was still alive. He yelled for us to help him. We were able to dig him out, but he was so badly injured we had to leave him. We couldn’t carry him with us.”

While Iraqi forces have had periods of swift gains during the Mosul operation, combat has largely been grueling and deadly for both security forces and civilians. Clashes have also displaced more than 850,000 people according to the International Organization for Migration.

At a small field clinic not far from the front, medics were treating casualties in waves. An entire family suffering from shrapnel wounds from a mortar round was brought in a military vehicle as another Humvee rushed up to the clinic’s doors with a body on the hood.

“What do we have?” a doctor yelled as a team scrambled to pull on plastic gloves and ready a cot. “A martyr,” the driver said. The medics stopped prepping bandages and began removing their gloves. The solider was already dead.

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad, Balint Szlanko and Salar Salim in Mosul, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

June 29, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces on Thursday captured the compound of a landmark mosque in Mosul that was blown up last week by the Islamic State group — a hugely symbolic site from where the top IS leader declared an Islamic “caliphate” nearly three years ago.

The advance comes as the Iraqi troops are pushing deeper into the Old City, a densely populated neighborhood west of the Tigris River where the al-Nouri Mosque with its 12th century al-Hadba minaret once stood and where the IS militants are now making their last stand in what are expected to be the final days of the battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

Iraqi special forces reached the al-Nuri Mosque compound and took control of the surrounding streets on Thursday afternoon, following a dawn push into the area, Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of the elite force told The Associated Press.

Damaged and destroyed houses dot the route Iraqi forces have carved into the congested district — along a landscape of destruction where the stench of rotting bodies rises from under the rubble. Thursday’s push comes more than a week after Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake Mosul’s last IS-held parts of the Old City neighborhood, with its narrow alleyways and dense clusters of homes.

Taking the mosque is a symbolic victory — from its pulpit, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014 declared a self-styled Islamic “caliphate,” encompassing territories then-held by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Iraqi and coalition officials said IS blew up the mosque complex last week. The Islamic State group has blamed a U.S. airstrike for the destruction, a claim rejected by a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. U.S.

Army Col. Ryan Dillon told the AP that coalition planes “did not conduct strikes in that area at that time.” IS had initially tried to destroy the al-Nouri Mosque in July 2014, saying the structure contradicted their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. Mosul residents converged on the area, however, and formed a human chain to protect it.

Last week’s destruction was only the latest in a long series of priceless archaeological and cultural sites that the militants have ravaged across Iraq and Syria. In addition to pillaging hundreds of treasures and artifacts, IS fighters have damaged or destroyed dozens of historic places, including the town of Palmyra in Syria, home to one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites; the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra; and the nearly 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud in Iraq’s Euphrates River valley.

After months of fighting, the IS hold in Mosul has now shrunk to less than 2 square kilometers (0.8 square miles) of territory but the advances have come at considerable cost. “There are hundreds of bodies under the rubble,” said special forces Maj. Dhia Thamir, deployed inside the Old City. He added that all the dead bodies along the special forces’ route were of IS fighters.

Special forces Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi acknowledged that some civilians have been killed by airstrikes and artillery in the fight for the Old City. “Of course there is collateral damage, it is always this way in war,” he said.

“The houses are very old,” he said, referring to the Old City, “so any bombardment causes them to collapse completely.” Al-Aridi said the clearing of the mosque will likely require specialized engineering teams since the militants have likely rigged the site with explosives.

The campaign to retake Mosul — formally launched in October — is in its final stages though the progress has been slow as the last militants there are holed up with an estimated 100,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.

The fight for the city has also displaced more than 850,000 people and while Iraqi forces have had periods of swift gains, combat inside Mosul has largely been grueling and deadly for both security forces and civilians.

In Baghdad, state TV declared the capture the al-Nuri Mosque with an urgent text scroll that said: “The State of Myth Has Fallen.”

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Balint Szlanko in Mosul, Iraq, contributed to this report.

May 06, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Aliyah Hussein and the 25 family members sheltering with her in Mosul’s western Mahatta neighborhood are surviving by picking wild greens growing in a park near their home. Hussein mixes the vegetables with small amounts of rice and tomato paste to make a thin soup that is often her family’s only meal.

Her cousin Zuhair Abdul Karim said on a recent day that even with the wild greens, the food ran out. “I swear to God, we are hungry. (The Islamic State group) made us hungry. They didn’t leave anything for us, they even stole our food,” Hussein said. Her home sits just a few hundred yards (meters) from the front line in the battle for western Mosul.

As Iraqi forces continue to make slow progress in the fight against IS in the city, clawing back territory house by house and block by block, food supplies are running dangerously low for civilians trapped inside militant-held territory and those inside recently retaken neighborhoods. For families like Hussein’s, safety concerns make them unreachable for most humanitarian groups.

Although Hussein has technically been liberated, her neighborhood is still too dangerous for most humanitarian groups to reach. In the past week she said she received only one box of food consisting of rice, oil and tomato paste, barely enough to feed her entire family even for a single day.

“The women didn’t have lunch. Only the children and men have eaten,” Abdul Karim said, explaining that he and his family are now living meal to meal. “We don’t know if we’ll have dinner,” he said, “maybe or maybe not.”

Some families walk several kilometers (miles) to markets that have sprung up in neighborhoods that have been under Iraqi military control longer. But prices there are high. Most families have exhausted their savings and work is almost non-existent in Mosul, a city now been ripped apart by war.

“The humanitarian world needs to realize that there is a huge gap between people who are in the safe zone and people who are actually trapped in the no man’s land between the Iraqi controlled areas and … Daesh controlled areas,” said Alto Labetubun with Norwegian People Aid, one of the few groups operating in neighborhoods close to the front line. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Some 300,000 to 500,000 people remain beyond anyone’s reach, trapped in IS-held Mosul neighborhoods, according to the United Nations. For those civilians, siege-like conditions have prevented food supplies from reaching them for more than six months.

Most of those civilians are estimated to be in Mosul’s old city, where the final battles of the operation are expected to play out. If the fighting there lasts many more weeks, the U.N. warns the consequences for civilians will be “catastrophic.”

“We know we have a problem because when people reach our camps the first thing they ask for is food,” said Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. She said it’s impossible to measure exactly how many families are facing what she described as “serious hunger” inside Mosul, but the conditions of the people fleeing the city paint a grim picture of those who remain trapped.

Hundreds of infants and young children who recently fled Mosul are being treated for malnutrition, Grande said. Separately, she added that the U.N. had received reports that even baby formula in IS-held neighborhoods is now no longer available,

“If the battle goes beyond (the next few weeks), then we have a catastrophic problem,” she said. In the Wadi al-Hajar neighborhood hundreds of people queue for food boxes delivered by Norwegian People Aid. But most of them are turned around as there aren’t enough supplies to go around. A small crowd of women begged the aid workers for food after the last boxes were handed out.

Ibrahim Khalil, also turned away, said his hunger was so intense, he felt like he was starving. “Didn’t they claim they’d liberate us from Daesh?!” he said referring to the Iraqi government, “and they’d change our lives from misery to happiness?”

2017-04-26

HATRA – Iraqi pro-government forces said Wednesday they had seized the UNESCO-listed ancient site of Hatra from the Islamic State group, the latest archaeological jewel to be wrested from the jihadists’ grip.

Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitary forces fighting IS around Iraq’s second city Mosul said they had “liberated the ancient city of Hatra… after fierce clashes with the enemy”.

The Hashed forces launched their offensive at dawn on Tuesday and swiftly retook villages in nearby desert areas and the Hatra archaeological site. They had advanced to the edge of the adjacent town of Hatra itself.

A reporter with the forces said the advance was quick, supported by army helicopters and met by limited resistance from the jihadists.

Lying 120 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Mosul, the jihadists’ last urban Iraqi stronghold, Hatra is one of a string of archaeological sites recaptured from IS in recent months.

Known as Al-Hadhr in Arabic, it was established in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and became a religious and trading center under the Parthian empire.

Its imposing fortifications helped it withstand sieges by the forces of two Roman emperors.

Although Hatra finally succumbed to Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanid dynasty, it was well-preserved over the centuries that followed.

But after IS jihadists seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in a lightning 2014 offensive, they vandalized sculptures there as part of a campaign of destruction against archaeological sites they had captured.

The jihadists see such destruction as a religiously mandated elimination of idols — but they have no qualms about selling smaller artifacts to fund their operations.

– Damage unclear –

The full extent of the damage to Hatra remains unclear.

IS has lost much of the territory it once controlled amid twin offensives in Syria and Iraq, including several ancient sites.

In November, less than a month into a vast operation to oust the jihadists from Mosul, Iraq said it had recaptured Nimrud, a jewel of the Assyrian empire founded in the 13th century BC.

Journalists who visited immediately afterwards found shattered statues, wrecked ancient palaces and bulldozed structures in one of the region’s most important archaeological sites.

IS had smashed stone carvings and detonated explosives at the site.

Last month Syrian regime forces recaptured the famed desert city of Palmyra from the jihadists, who had destroyed priceless objects there too.

Also in March, Iraqi security forces recaptured Mosul’s museum, where IS militants infamously filmed themselves smashing priceless artifacts.

The five-minute video from 2015 shows militants at the museum in Mosul knocking statues off their plinths and smashing them to pieces.

In another scene, jihadists used a jackhammer to deface an imposing granite Assyrian winged bull at the Nergal Gate in Mosul.

The destruction at the museum and the archaeological sites drew widespread condemnation internationally and inside Iraq.

Iraqi pro-government forces backed by a US-led coalition have been fighting since October to oust IS from Mosul.

The Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella group for militias that mobilized to fight IS, have focused their efforts on a front southwest of Mosul, aiming to seize the town of Tal Afar as well as desert areas stretching to the border with Syria.

Iraqi forces advanced in west Mosul this week, closing in on the Old City as the jihadists executed civilians in a desperate bid to hold on to the last major Iraqi bastion of their crumbling “caliphate”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=82797.

2017-02-23

MOSUL – Iraqi forces on Thursday thrust into Mosul airport on the southern edge of the jihadist stronghold for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the region in 2014.

Backed by jets, gunships and drones, forces blitzed their way across open areas south of Mosul and entered the airport compound, apparently meeting limited resistance but strafing the area for suspected snipers.

“Right now thank God we’re inside Mosul airport and in front of its terminal. Our troops are liberating it,” Hisham Abdul Kadhem, a commander in the interior ministry’s Rapid Response units, said inside the airport.

Little was left standing inside the perimeter and what used to be the runway was littered with dirt and rubble.

Most buildings were completely leveled but Iraqi forces celebrated the latest landmark in the four-month-old offensive to retake Mosul.

While Iraqi forces were not yet deployed in the northern part of the sprawling airport compound and sappers cautiously scanned the site for explosive devices, IS appeared to offer limited resistance.

As Iraqi forces approached the airport moments earlier, attack helicopters fired rockets at an old sugar factory that stands next to the perimeter wall, sending a cloud of ash floating across the area.

The push on the airport was launched at dawn and Iraqi forces stormed it within hours from the southwest.

– US forces –

The regional command said elite forces from the Counter-Terrorism Service were simultaneously attacking the neighboring Ghazlani military base, where some of them were stationed before IS seized Mosul in June 2014.

Control of the base and airport would set government forces up to enter Mosul neighborhoods on the west bank of the Tigris, a month after declaring full control of the east bank.

All of the city’s bridges across the river are damaged.

The US-led coalition has played a key role in supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes and advisers on the ground, and on Thursday US forces were seen on the front lines.

The American troops are not supposed to be doing the actual fighting but in recent weeks have got so close to the front that they have come under attack, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.

“They have come under fire at different times, they have returned fire at different times, in and around Mosul,” Dorrian told reporters on Wednesday.

He declined to say if there had been any US casualties in the attacks, but an unnamed official later told CNN that several personnel had been evacuated from the battlefield.

The latest push to retake Mosul, the country’s second city and the last stronghold of the jihadists in Iraq, was launched on Sunday and involves thousands of security personnel.

They started closing in on the airport four days ago. It is unclear how many jihadists tried to defend the airport but US officials said Monday that only around 2,000 remain in Mosul.

There are an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped on the city’s west bank, which is a bit smaller than the east side but more densely populated.

It includes the Old City and its narrow streets, which will make for a difficult terrain when Iraqi forces reach it because they will be impassable for some military vehicles.

– Letters from the east –

The noose has for months now been tightening around Mosul and the living conditions for civilians are fast deteriorating.

Residents reached by phone spoke of dwindling food supplies forcing many families to survive on just one meal a day.

Medical workers say the weakest are beginning to die of the combined effect of malnutrition and the lack of medicines, which IS fighters are keeping for themselves.

An army plane late Wednesday dropped thousands of letters written by residents of the retaken east bank to their fellow citizens across the river.

“Be patient and help each other… the end of injustice is near,” read one of them which was signed “People from the east side.”

“Stay in your homes and cooperate with the security forces. They are your brothers, they came to liberate you,” read another.

A smaller than expected proportion of the east side’s population fled when Iraqi forces stormed it nearly four months ago but the United Nations is bracing for a bigger exodus from the west.

It had said 250,000 people or more could flee their homes on the west bank and has scrambled to set up new displacement camps around the city.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=81637.

February 19, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces launched an operation Sunday to retake the western half of Mosul from the Islamic State group. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation early Sunday morning on state television, saying government forces were moving to “liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression forever”, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Southwest of Mosul, near the city’s IS-held airport, plumes of smoke were seen rising into the sky as coalition aircraft bombed militant positions. Further south at an Iraqi base, federal police forces were gathering and getting ready to move north.

Iraqi forces took control of eastern Mosul last month, but the west remains in the hands of entrenched extremists. Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, is roughly split in half by the Tigris River. The battle for Mosul’s western half is expected to be prolonged and difficult, due to denser population and older, narrower streets.

January 15, 2017

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces have won a string of swift territorial gains in Mosul in the fight against the Islamic State group after months of slow progress, with a senior officer on Saturday laying claim to a cluster of buildings inside Mosul University and another edge of a bridge.

Iraqi forces now control the eastern sides of three of the city’s five bridges that span the Tigris River connecting Mosul’s east to west. Warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition bombed the city’s bridges late last year in an effort to isolate IS fighters in the city’s east by disrupting resupply routes.

At Mosul University, senior commanders said Iraqi forces had secured more than half of the campus Saturday amid stiff resistance, but clashes were ongoing into the afternoon. Iraqi forces entered the university from the southeast Friday morning and by nightfall had secured a handful of buildings, Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil and Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said on a tour of the university Saturday.

“We watched all the IS fighters gather in that building, so we blew it up,” said special forces Sgt. Maj. Haytham Ghani pointing to one of the blackened technical college buildings where charred desks could be seen inside. “You can still see some of their corpses.”

Thick clouds of black smoke rose from the middle of the sprawling complex Saturday morning. By afternoon, clashes had intensified with volleys of sniper and mortar fire targeting the advancing Iraqi forces. Convoys of Iraqi Humvees snaked through the campus, pausing for artillery and airstrikes to clear snipers perched within classrooms, dormitories and behind the trees that line the campus streets.

IS fighters overran Mosul in the summer of 2014, announcing from there their self-styled “caliphate” after taking a large swath of Iraq and Syria in a lightning surge. Access to the city’s central bank, a large taxable civilian population and nearby oilfields quickly made IS the world’s wealthiest terrorist group.

Yet even as a punishing campaign of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes has pushed the militants underground, IS leaders continued to use Mosul as a key logistical hub for planning meetings. If recaptured by the Iraqi forces, IS territory in Iraq that once stretched across a third of the country would be reduced to small pockets in the north and west that troops will likely be able to mop up relatively quickly.

The massive operation to retake Mosul from IS was launched in October. Since then Iraqi forces have slowly clawed back more than a third of the city. IS maintains has tight control of the city’s western half where Iraqi forces will likely encounter another wave of heavy IS resistance. The west of the city is home to some of Mosul’s densest neighborhoods and an estimated 700,000 civilians.

As Iraqi forces have closed in on the Tigris that roughly divides Mosul into eastern and western halves, their pace has quickened. IS defenses in the city’s east appear to be thinning and unlike in the surrounding neighborhoods, Iraqi officers said they believe Mosul University and recently retaken government buildings are largely empty of civilians — allowing them to use air cover more liberally.

Iraqi soldiers at Mosul University said while they were still coming under heavy small arms fire, IS resistance was significantly less than they faced during the first weeks of the Mosul operation. “We were targeted with only four car bombs where before (IS) would send 20 in one day,” special forces Lt. Zain al-Abadeen said. “And they aren’t armored like before, they’re just using civilian cars.”

Medics operating a small field hospital in eastern Mosul said civilian casualties have dropped significantly over the past three days as Iraqi forces moved into government complexes like the university rather than dense civilian neighborhoods.

Also Saturday, IS launched its biggest assault in a year on government-held areas of the contested Syrian city of Deir el-Zour in an attempt to maintain a grip on the eastern stretch of the neighboring country where the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa lies.

Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.