Iraqi forces change tactics after battle to reclaim Mosul grinds to a halt

The US-backed coalition is now trying to encircle the militants, trapping them in the Old City.

The loose coalition of forces battling to reclaim Mosul from Isis have had to change tactics, as progress had stalled in the fight that has raged for seven months. The eastern half of the city was retaken with little resistance earlier this year, but the fight for the more densely populated western half has been slower.

A member of the Iraqi forces fires from a position in the northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhood of MosulFadel Senna/AFP

Iraqi forces have been struggling to enter the Old City around the mosque from which Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a modern-day caliphate.

The US-backed coalition is now trying to encircle the militants, trapping them in the Old City. As Iraqi army and federal police forces push from the north, the country's special forces are moving toward the Old City through Mosul's western industrial neighbourhoods. Squeezed in a steadily shrinking area of the city, the militants are fighting back with a barrage of suicide car bombs and snipers concealed amongst hundreds of thousands of civilians they are effectively holding hostage.

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Members of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS) advance in western Mosul's al-Islah al-Zaraye neighbourhoodAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
A member of the Iraqi rapid response force enters a house through a hole in a wall to avoid being hit by Isis snipers in northwestern MosulDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
A member of the Iraqi forces takes a position in Mosul's northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhoodFadel Senna/AFP
Iraqi forces fire from a position on the rooftop of a building in Mosul's northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhoodFadel Senna/AFP
Members of Iraq's Counter Terrorism Service secure a suspected Isis bomb factory after entering the al-Sanaa neighbourhood of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Fins are seen inside a factory used by Islamic State militants to manufacture mortar bombsDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
Members of Iraqi Federal Police stand guard at a factory used by Islamic State militants to manufacture weaponsDanish Siddiqui/Reuters
Iraqi forces advance in Mosul's northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhoodFadel Senna/AFP
Members of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Services check a house as they advance towards the al-Islah al-Zaraye neighbourhood of western MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Members of the Iraqi forces guard a position in the northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhood of MosulFadel Senna/AFP
A car bomb explodes as members of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Services (CTS) advance towards the al-Islah al-Zaraye neighbourhoodAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Smoke billows following a reported air strike on the northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhood of MosulFadel Senna/AFP
Bodies of men, described by Iraqi forces as suspected Isis fighters, lie outside a destroyed building as government troops battle to retake the northwestern Al-Haramat neighbourhood of Mosul from the jihadistsAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP

Wahab al-Tai, a media adviser for the Interior Minister, estimated there are just hundreds of extremists left in the area. However, Iraqi forces face major difficulties in the area, which totals about two square kilometres, with many civilians stuck in the Old Town which is controlled by extremists. Air raids, as well as the use of heavy weaponry such as mortars, artillery and rockets have been banned for fear of injuring the civilians.

The UN estimates that between 350,000 and 500,000 people remain trapped in Isis-held parts of western Mosul. The jihadists are shooting people who try to escape, although some men have been allowed to go in exchange for taking militants' families with them, one man who fled the Musherfa district told Reuters.

As Iraqi forces continue to make slow progress in the fight against Isis in the city, clawing back territory house by house and block by block, food supplies are running dangerously low for civilians trapped inside militant-held territory and those inside recently retaken neighbourhoods. Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said hundreds of infants and young children who recently fled Mosul are being treated for malnutrition.

A boy carrying a white flag flees his home as Iraqi forces advance in the northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhood of Mosul during the ongoing offensive to retake the area from IsisFadel Senna/AFP
Residents evacuate their homes as Iraqi forces advance in the northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhood of MosulFadel Senna/AFP
Children who spent a week confined to their home because they were too scared to leave due to the fighting stand in the doorway of their home after Iraqi forces entered the building in Mosul's northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhoodFadel Senna/AFP
People flee their homes as Iraqi forces advance in the northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhood of MosulFadel Senna/AFP
A member of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service helps a woman from western Mosul's al-Islah al-Zaraye neighbourhood flee her homeAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Iraqi forces transport a child suffering from severe dehydration in Mosul's northwestern al-Haramat neighbourhoodFadel Senna/AFP

More than 600,000 people have fled the city in the seven months since Iraqi forces began their offensive to capture Mosul. Roughly 400,000 of those were from the western side of the city.

Defeat in Mosul, the militants' last urban stronghold in Iraq, would still leave Isis in control of swathes of Syria and Iraqi territory near the Syrian border.

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