Iraqi Forces Launch New Push Toward Mosul Old City Center

Iraqi forces have attacked four Islamic State-held areas in Mosul, the latest push in a battle that has displaced more than 45,000 people since it began in October last year.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command (JOC) said on March 5 that the Federal Police and Rapid Response Division forces were attacking the Al-Dindan and Al-Dawasa neighbourhoods, while Counterterrorism Service forces were attacking the Al-Sumood and Tal al-Ruman neighbourhoods.

An Iraqi commander said troops were moving toward the local government complex in Mosul’s western side, held by Islamic State (IS) militants, amid the "heaviest" clashes since the start of the new offensive more than two weeks ago.

Major-General Haider al-Maturi told the Associated Press news agency that IS militants dispatched at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching the troops. He added that militants are moving from house to house and deploying snipers.

Iraqi troops launched a fresh offensive early on March 5 in the Al-Dawasa neighborhood. They are now about 500 meters away from the government complex, al-Maturi said.

The Nineveh governor’s headquarters and other government buildings are located in Al-Dawasa. Mosul is the capital of Nineveh province.

West Mosul is the largest urban population center still held by IS militants, followed by Raqqa in Syria and Tal Afar, which is located between Mosul and the Syrian border.

The Iraqi Army is also advancing through the desert surrounding the city, in an attempt to cut it off from Tal Afar, farther west.

The Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV televised live footage showing thick black smoke covering the sky during a heavy exchange of fire.

Thousands Displaced

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces began a major offensive on February 19 to remove Islamic State militants from the western section of Mosul, almost a month after they forced militants out of the eastern part of the city.

Iraqi forces launched the operation to recapture Mosul on October 17, retaking its eastern side in January before moving on to the smaller but more densely-populated west.

They paused their advance over the past 48 hours because of bad weather.

Most of western Mosul is still under IS control despite recent gains on the city's southwestern edge by Iraqi forces.

The fall of west Mosul, which was captured by IS fighters in the summer of 2014, would mark the fall of the self-declared capital of IS militants’ “caliphate” in Iraq, announced by leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from a mosque in the city in 2014.

Meanwhile, at least 45,000 people have been displaced from western Mosul during recent fighting there, the International Organization for Migration said on March 5.

The UN organization said that 45,714 individuals or around 7,619 families have been displaced from western Mosul since February 25, days after U.S.-backed Iraqi forces started a major offensive.

More than 200,000 people are currently displaced as a result of the operation to recapture Mosul, while more fled but later returned to their homes.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP