Iraqi forces push further in western Mosul amid heavy clashes
MOSUL, Iraq, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi forces on Thursday freed another neighborhood after heavy clashes against the Islamic State (IS) militants in a push that initiated a new front in the northern part of IS stronghold in the western side of Mosul, the Iraqi military said.
The federal police and interior ministry special forces, known as Rapid Response, backed by tanks and armored vehicles freed the neighborhood of Iqtisadiyn after days of heavy back and forth clashes, Abdul-Amir Yarallah from the Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
The recapture of the neighborhood came four days after the troops initiated a new push into four neighborhoods of northern part of Mosul's western side.
The troops are now pushing to seize the remaining neighborhoods in north and northwest of the city center to tighten noose around the IS redoubt in the neighborhoods of Mosul's old city center, where roughly 400,000 residents are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
Earlier in the day, the United Nationssaid that up to 200,000 more people could flee Mosul as fighting against IS militants intensified in the western side of Mosul.
"The number of people who are moving is now so large, it's becoming more and more difficult to ensure civilians receiving the assistance and protection they need. As military operations intensify and move closer to Mosul's old city area, we expect that up to 200,000 more people will flee," Lise Grande, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq said in a statement.
Late in January, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, declared the liberation of Mosul's eastern side, or the left bank of Tigris, after over 100 days of fighting against IS militants.
On February 19, Abadi announced the start of an offensive to drive extremist militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of the Tigris River, which bisects the city.
However, the western part of Mosul, with its narrow streets and heavily populated neighborhoods, appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi forces.
Mosul, 400 km north of Iraq's capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.[ Editor: meng ]