MOSUL: Fighters of the militant Islamic State group vowed to “fight to the death” in Mosul on Saturday as Iraqi military commanders said they would take full control of the city from the insurgents at any moment.
Dozens of Iraqi soldiers celebrated amid the rubble on the banks of the Tigris river without waiting for a formal victory declaration, some dancing to music blaring out from a truck and firing machineguns into the air, a correspondent said.
The mood was less festive, however, among some of the nearly one million Mosul residents displaced by months of combat, many of whom are living in camps outside the city with little respite from the blazing summer heat.
“If there is no rebuilding and people don’t return to their homes and regain their belongings, what is the meaning of liberation?” Mohammed Haji Ahmed, 43, a clothing trader, said in the Hassan Sham camp to the east of Mosul.
Earlier on Saturday, a military spokesman said the insurgents’ defence lines were collapsing, state television reported.
“We are seeing now the last metres (yards) and then final victory will be announced,” a presenter said, citing correspondents embedded with security forces fighting in IS’s redoubt in the Old City by the Tigris. “It’s a matter of hours,” she added.
But IS’s Amaq news agency reported “fierce fighting” around the riverside district of Maydan and said its fighters “were holding onto their fortified positions.”
“The fighters of Islamic State are collectively pledging (to fight to the) death in Maydan,” Amaq said in another online post.
Artillery explosions and gunfire could still be heard during Saturday afternoon and a column of smoke billowed over the Old City riverside, the correspondent said.
A US-led international coalition is providing air and ground support to the eight-month campaign to wrest back Mosul, by far the largest city seized by IS in 2014.
Almost exactly three years ago, the ultra-hardline group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared from Mosul a “caliphate” over adjoining parts of Iraq and Syria.
Dozens of IS insurgents were killed on Saturday and others tried to escape by swimming across Tigris, state TV said. Most of those making a last stand were foreigners, it added.
Iraqi commanders say the militants were fighting for every metre with snipers, grenades and suicide bombers, forcing security forces to fight house-to-house in the densely populated maze of narrow alleyways.
“The battle has reached the phase of chasing the insurgents in remaining blocks,” the Iraqi military media office said in a statement. “Some members of Daesh have surrendered,” it added. The road where the soldiers celebrated was scarred with gaping holes from explosions and rubble from a flattened multi-storey shopping mall.
Rubbish and ammunition boxes were strewn around and the only civilians
seen were a group of about 15 women, children and elderly, some of them wounded, sheltering in a damaged petrol station. Security forces medics were giving them first aid.