Some 300 Islamic State group (I.S.) fighters remain in the small patch of territory still controlled by the group in Mosul’s Old City, a senior Iraqi commander said Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Sami al-Aridi of Iraq’s special forces said that the militants’ hold on Mosul has shrunk to a 500 square meter (600 sq. yard) area. A large number of civilians are believed to be trapped in the I.S.-run enclave, with around 1,500 fleeing with every 100-meter advance by Iraqi forces.
Iraqi forces moved to besiege the Old City before launching their attack in order to prevent I.S. fighters from fleeing to neighboring Syria, but al-Aridi said hundreds of militants still managed to escape from the Old City alone.
“They just shave their beards and walk out,” al-Aridi said. “Just yesterday we captured two among a group of women and children.”
Late Tuesday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the armed forces on a “big victory” in Mosul, despite ongoing clashes. The prime minister declared an end to the extremist group’s self-styled Islamic caliphate in June.
I.S. captured Mosul in a matter of days when it swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014. Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition launched a major operation to retake the city in October.