Photos: Thousands flee as Iraqi forces fighting Isis advance into west Mosul

Iraqi forces have battled their way to within firing range of Mosul's main government buildings, a major target in the offensive to dislodge Isis from its stronghold in the western side of the city. Taking these buildings would help Iraqi forces attack the Daesh militants in the nearby old city centre and would be of symbolic significance in terms of restoring state authority over the city.

An Iraqi special forces soldier moves through a hole in a wall as he searches for Islamic State fighters in MosulGoran Tomasevic/Reuters

"The provincial council and the governorate building are within the firing range of the rapid response forces," a media officer with the elite Interior Ministry units told Reuters, referring to within machine gun range or about 400 metres (1,300 feet).

US-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) units are battling Islamic State sniper and mortar fire as they move eastwards through Wadi al-Hajar district to link up with Rapid Response and Federal Police deployed by the riverside, in a move that would seal off all southern access to the city.

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Several thousand militants, including many who travelled from Western countries to join up, are believed to be in Mosul among a remaining civilian population estimated at the start of the offensive at 750,000. Unlike Iraqi militants who can blend in with civilians and possibly slip through the net of security forces, foreign fighters have no escape and will therefore fight to the end.

They are using mortar, sniper fire, booby traps and suicide car bombs to fight the offensive carried out by a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, regional Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shia Muslim paramilitary groups.

An Iraqi special forces soldier fires his rifle at Islamic State fighters' positionsGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
Iraqi special forces soldiers run across a street during a clashes in MosulGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
The mother of a boy injured during a battle between Iraqi troops and Islamic State fighters washes his face inside a house before they were rescuedGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
An Iraqi special forces soldier carries a woman injured during a battle against Islamic State fighters in MosulGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
Iraqi special forces soldier talk to each other as they prepare for attack on Islamic State fighters in MosulGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
A boy lies down as he shelters inside a house in Hawi Al-Josaq in west Mosul after Iraqi forces retook it from Islamic State militantsZohra Bensemra/Reuters
The door of an Iraqi special forces vehicle is seen during a battle with Islamic State fighters on the outskirts of MosulGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
Members of the rapid response forces help their injured comrade during a battle with Islamic State militants in west MosulZohra Bensemra/Reuters
An Iraqi special forces soldier stands over the body of an Islamic State fighter in MosulGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
An Iraqi Air Force helicopter fires missiles at Islamic State fighters on the outskirts of MosulGoran Tomasevic/Reuters
Members of the Iraqi Army's 9th Division fire a multiple rocket launcher from a hill in Talul al-Atshana, on the southwestern outskirts of MosulAris Messinis/AFP
A member of the Iraqi federal police walks up the stairs of a house in the city of MosulAris Messinis/AFP
Iraqi forces secure a damaged building as they advance through Mosul's Jawasaq neighbourhoodAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Iraqi forces hold a position as troops advance through Mosul's Jawasaq neighbourhoodAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Iraqi forces advance through Mosul's Jawasaq neighbourhoodAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Members of the Iraqi forces take cover as they advance towards Dindan neighbourhood in western MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Members of Iraqi security forces hold an Islamic State flag which they pulled down during a battle in al-Josaq district in western MosulAzad Lashkaril/Reuters
Members of the rapid response forces battle against Islamic State militants in al-Josaq district in western MosulAzad Lashkaril/Reuters
Iraqis flee their homes in al-Josaq district during a battle with Islamic State militantsAzad Lashkaril/Reuters
Iraqi forces stand next to the body of an alleged Isis fighter as they advance through Mosul's Jawasaq neighbourhoodAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP

Terrified civilians are fleeing the fighting, some toward government lines, often under militant fire. Others have been forced to head deeper into Isis-held parts of the city. More than 10,000 civilians have escaped from Isis-held districts since government forces broke through the city's southern limits on 23 February, seeking medical assistance, food and water.

Iraqis who fled their homes in western Mosul walk through the desertZohra Bensemra/Reuters
Iraqis who fled their homes walk through the desert on the outskirts of western MosulZohra Bensemra/Reuters
Iraqi women who fled their home in western Mosul rest in the desert as they wait to be transported to safer groundZohra Bensemra/Reuters
An Iraqi man who fled his home in western Mosul talks to Iraqi special forces officers at their baseZohra Bensemra/Reuters
A special forces member gives bottles of water to children who had just fled their homesZohra Bensemra/Reuters
A woman lies down at a field hospital beneath an Isis billboard on the outskirts of western Mosul. The sign reads: 'There is No God Only God. Islamic state Nineveh Governorate'Zohra Bensemra/Reuters
Wheelchairs are abandoned in the desert by Iraqis as they fled their homesZohra Bensemra/Reuters
Iraqis who fled their homes in western Mosul wait to register at a special forces baseZohra Bensemra/Reuters
An Iraqi men who fled his home carries his daughter as he waits to be transportedZohra Bensemra/Reuters
A member of the special forces holds the baby of an Iraqi who fled his home in western MosulZohra Bensemra/Reuters
A special forces member feed an Iraqi woman who fled her homeZohra Bensemra/Reuters
Am Iraqi girl who fled her home waits to be transported to a refugee campZohra Bensemra/Reuters
Iraqi Special forces help an elderly Iraqi woman who fled her home in western MosulZohra Bensemra/Reuters
An injured boy receives treatment from Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service members on the outskirts of western MosulMahdi Talaat/Reuters
An Iraqi man sits next to the body of a relative who was killed during a battle between Isis fighters and Iraqi troops in western MosulMahdi Talaat/Reuters
An Iraqi woman who fled her home in western Mosul as Iraqi forces battle with Islamic State militantsAlaa Al-Marjani/Reuters
Displaced Iraqis wait for a security check at an Iraqi forces base in western MosulAlaa Al-Marjani/Reuters
Iraqis who fled their homes are transported to refugee campsZohra Bensemra/Reuters

The people fleeing western Mosul are "often exhausted and dehydrated", said a statement by the UN humanitarian aid agency known as OCHA, adding that an estimated 250,000 people could flee the fighting in the coming days. It also warned that the situation for the estimated 750,000 civilians remaining in western Mosul "is desperate" as supply lines have been cut off. Citing eyewitness accounts, OCHA said civilians still in western Mosul are enduring shortages of everything from food and water to gas, heating oil and medical supplies.

Women and children receive items of aid, while men are screened to make sure they are not Islamic State members.

Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest a man suspected of belonging to Islamic StateAlaa Al-Marjani/Reuters
Iraqi Special Operations Forces arrest a man suspected of belonging to Islamic StateAlaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

If they defeat Islamic State in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate that the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared in 2014 over parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria. The US commander in Iraq has said he believes US-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa – Islamic State's Syria stronghold – within six months.

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