Iraqi army units surged towards the center of Mosul on Tuesday in an attack from the city’s southeastern edges that could give fresh impetus to the seven-week-old battle for Daesh’s Iraqi stronghold.
Campaign commander Lieutenant General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah was quoted by Iraqi television as saying troops had entered Salam Hospital, less than a mile (1.5 km) from the Tigris river running through the city centre.
If confirmed, that would mark a significant advance by the Ninth Armoured Division, which had been tied up for more than a month in close-quarter combat with Daesh (Islamic State) on the southeastern fringes of the city.
Residents of Daesh-controlled districts of east Mosul said by telephone the army had punched deep into the east bank of the city, getting close to the Tigris.
“The fighting right now is very heavy – Iraqi forces have gone past our neighborhood without entering it. Our area is now practically surrounded by the river and the Iraqi forces,” said a resident of the Palestine neighborhood.
Daesh’s news agency appeared to confirm the advance, saying three car bombers struck the troops near Salam hospital.
A Reuters team saw thick black smoke rising from the area around the hospital. “We made good advances today,” said a soldier who identified himself as Abu Ahmed.
Mosul is by far the largest city under Daesh control and defeat there would roll back the self-styled caliphate it declared in 2014 after seizing large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Some 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and mainly paramilitary forces are participating in the Mosul campaign that began on Oct. 17, with air and ground support from a US-led coalition.
A colonel in the armored division said Tuesday’s assault, launched at 6 a.m., aimed to ultimately reach Mosul’s Fourth Bridge, the southernmost of five bridges spanning the river.
The bridge, like three others, has been hit by US-led air strikes to prevent Daesh sending reinforcements and suicide car bombs across the city to the eastern front.
The last and oldest bridge, built in the 1930s, was targeted on Monday night, two residents said. The structure was not destroyed, but the air strikes made two large craters in the approach roads on both sides.
“I saw Daesh (Islamic State) using bulldozers to fill the craters with sand and by midday vehicles managed to cross the bridge normally. I drove my car to the other side of the bridge and saw also Daesh vehicles crossing,” a taxi driver told Reuters.