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Iraqi Forces Squeeze IS Into Final Streets As Mosul Residents Celebrate Eid

An Iraqi policeman holds a 10,000-Iraqi dinar note bearing an image of Mosul's leaning minaret, now destroyed.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have closed in on the final Islamic State (IS) militant holdouts in the Old City section of Mosul, as the culmination of an eight-month battle appeared to be near.

Lieutenant Colonel Salam al-Obeidi on June 25 told the AFP news agency that "65 to 70 percent of the Old City has been liberated -- there is less than a square kilometer left to retake."

He was speaking from the war-torn Old City, a few meters from what is left of the iconic leaning minaret of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, which IS militants had blown up four days earlier.

The fall of the Old City and the full liberation of Mosul would mark a major victory over IS, three years after the Sunni extremists overran government forces to capture Iraq's second-largest city.

In July 2014, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared during a Friday Prayer service at the mosque to announce the formation of an Islamic "caliphate" over Iraq and Syria.

But U.S.-led Iraqi forces have mostly driven IS from Mosul, the extremists' final significant stronghold in Iraq. A U.S.-led Arab-Kurdish coalition is closing in on the extremists as well in Raqqa, their final major holdout in Syria.

A senior Russian diplomat on June 22 said Baghdadi was likely killed in a Russian air strike, although the claim has yet to be confirmed.

Army commanders say the IS "caliphate" is now down to 1 square kilometer, with a "few hundred" extremists holding out.

However, fighting continues to be intense and up to 500,000 civilians remain behind IS-held lines, military officials said. They added that desperate militants will likely hold out until death.

IS "members don't turn themselves in," Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad al-Tamim said. "And if they don't get killed, their last option is to blow themselves up and commit suicide."

Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a top counterterrorism commander, told AFP he was confident of victory.

"We will finish the operation within a few days. The end is going to be very will take days," he said from the Old City.

In the liberated areas of Mosul on June 25, people celebrated their first Muslim Eid holiday in three years without an IS presence.

Children played on swings in squares on the eastern side of the city, which had been taken by Iraqi forces months ago before the assault on western Mosul was launched.

Residents said Eid prayers were allowed under IS rule but festivities were not.

For many residents, the festivities could not overshadow the destruction of the historic leaning minaret and the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque as well as much of the rest of their city.

"Eid is not the same," said one man who did not want to give his name for fear of an IS return.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters