Heavy Fighting As Iraqi Forces Set Sights On Mosul's Grand Mosque

Heavy Fighting As Iraqi Forces Set Sights On Mosul's Grand Mosque

 Iraqi government forces took control of a key bridge in west Mosul on Wednesday (March 15) and are moving steadily towards the city's Grand Mosque, police said.

"Our troops are making a steady advance towards the Grand Mosque and we are now less than 800 meters from the mosque," a federal police spokesman said.

The capture of the strategic Iron Bridge on Wednesday allows the Iraqi forces' controlled eastern Mosul to be linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) held Old City. The capture of the bridge also brings the total number of bridges in the city that are under Iraqi forces control to three, leaving just two others in ISIS hands.

Footage shot by Reuters news agency in an area located just 1.2 kilometers from the Iron Bridge, showed columns of black smoke rising in the distance while the frequent sound of gunfire and loud explosions filled the air.

Residents could also be seen walking with livestock and whatever belongings they could carry, while Iraqi government forces patrolled the neighborhood in tanks and on foot.

The offensive to recapture west Mosul started three weeks ago.

The operation to retake the eastern bank of the city, launched in mid-October with support from a U.S.-led coalition, took more than three months.

As Iraqi forces advance deeper into west Mosul, they are facing increasingly stiff resistance from ISIS militants using suicide car bombs and snipers to defend their last major stronghold in Iraq.

About 40,000 people have fled the fighting and hardship in the past ten days, bringing the total displaced from Mosul to 215,000 since the campaign to drive out the jihadists began in October, according to United Nations estimates.