BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi officials said on Monday government forces had taken complete control of eastern Mosul, 100 days after the start of their U.S.-backed campaign to dislodge Islamic State militants from the city.
The deputy parliament speaker announced the capture of the east of the city, Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq, after a meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
“We completed the total liberation of the left bank of Mosul and this is a gift to the Iraqi people,” said Sheikh Humam Hamoudi in a statement, quoting Abadi at the meeting.
The army on Sunday entered Rashidiya, the last district under the control of the militants on the east bank of the Tigris, said military spokesman Brigadier-General Yahya Rasool.
Mopping-up operations were still under way on Monday to flush out remaining militants in a pocket in this northeastern district, he said in a statement.
A resident of Rashidiya said the army had stormed the area after air strikes destroyed a tank and car bomb the militants had been preparing to attack the advancing forces.
A resident of Zanjali, a district on the west side of Mosul, said Islamic State fighters “have arrived from the left bank and are trying to find houses on the right bank”, fleeing from the government forces’ advance.
The resident asked not to identified as the militants kill those caught speaking with the outside world.
Iraqi forces launched a campaign on Oct. 17 to retake Mosul from the hardline Sunni group, which captured the city in 2014, declaring from its Grand Mosque a “caliphate” that also spanned parts of Syria, ruled by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The defence ministry had earlier on Monday issued a statement announcing the complete takeover of eastern Mosul, adding that Abadi would be making a formal announcement later. The statement was later removed from the ministry’s website.
A U.S.-led coalition is providing air and ground support to the Iraqi forces.
The west side of Mosul could prove more complicated to take than the east as it is crisscrossed by streets too narrow for armoured vehicles.
The militants are expected to put up a tough fight as they are cornered in a shrinking area of the northern Iraqi city.
Mosul had a pre-war population of nearly 2 million, and about 750,000 people are estimated to live in western Mosul. More than 160,000 have been displaced since the start of the offensive, according to the United Nations.
The UN expressed “deep concern” for the fate of civilians in western Mosul ahead of the looming battle.
“The reports from inside western Mosul are distressing,” Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement.
“The prices of basic food and supplies are soaring ... many families without income are eating only once a day. Others are being forced to burn furniture to stay warm.”
The battle for Mosul, involving 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of the Kurdish security forces and Shi’ite militiamen, is the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Iraqi forces estimated the number of militants inside the city at 5,000 to 6,000 at the start of operations three months ago, and says 3,300 have been killed in the fighting since.
The militants blew up a landmark hotel in western Mosul on Friday in an apparent attempt to prevent advancing Iraqi forces from using it as a base or a sniper position when fighting moves west of the Tigris.
The Mosul Hotel, shaped as a stepped pyramid, stands close to the river.
State TV said the army had set up temporary bridges across the Tigris south of Mosul to allow troops to cross in preparation for the offensive on the western bank.
The city’s five permanent bridges across the Tigris have been damaged by U.S.-led air strikes and Islamic State blew up two.
Editing by Andrew Roche