Iraqi forces have taken one of the four remaining districts under control of the extremist group Islamic State (IS) in west Mosul, military officials say.
Counterterrorism Service (CTS) units on June 2 captured the Sihha district as U.S.-led forces battle in what they hope will be the final campaign to drive the militants out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last significant IS stronghold in the country.
By taking Sihha, Iraqi forces have reduced IS territory in the northern city to three districts along the Tigris River's west bank. IS fighters have yet to be cleared from the crowded Old City and parts of Zanjili district as well as the medical sector.
Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat of the federal police said his forces "continue to advance cautiously and have imposed their control over 40 percent of the Zanjili neighborhood."
Military officials say Iraqi troops are facing significant resistance from the remaining IS fighters who are holding out among an estimated 200,000 civilians.
Brigadier General Haidar al-Obeidi of the elite CTS force told AFP news agency that his troops have avoided entering the Old City for now “because of the tightness of the area and the presence of a number of residents and fear of injuries and damage...to civilians and buildings.”
Should Mosul fall to the Iraqi forces, it would represent a massive blow to the IS extremists. Mosul was the city where leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his so-called "caliphate" nearly three years ago.
Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. and coalition air support, began in October the battle to liberate Mosul.
The eastern half of Mosul was retaken earlier this year, and troops are facing fierce IS resistance in more heavily populated west Mosul.
IS fighters captured Mosul in 2014 as they gained wide swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in battles against government troops.
However, U.S.-led coalition forces have made major gains against the group, both in Mosul and around the Syrian city of Raqqa, the last major IS stronghold in that country.