A series of suicide attacks have killed at least three people and injured dozens as the battle for the last district in the hands of Daesh nears its end.

More than 100,000 civilians, of whom half are children, are trapped in the crumbling old houses of the Old City of Mosul, with little food, water or medical treatment.
More than 100,000 civilians, of whom half are children, are trapped in the crumbling old houses of the Old City of Mosul, with little food, water or medical treatment.

Suicide bombers attacked a shopping district of east Mosul that was retaken from militants months ago, killing at least three people, medical and security officials said on Saturday.

The attack struck the Muthanna neighbourhood late on Friday as residents shopped ahead of the Eid al Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

"The first suicide bomber blew himself up as he was being stopped by a policeman, who died on the spot," a senior police officer said.

A second bomber managed to enter a shopping arcade and blew himself up among civilians, killing at least two and wounding nine, according to the same officer and a medic at Al Khansaa hospital.

A third suicide bomber was killed by police before he could detonate his vest, the sources said.

The attack was not the first but among the bloodiest since Iraqi forces retook the eastern side of Mosul in January as part of a massive offensive to wrest back the country's second city from Daesh.

Residents in areas retaken from the militants have warned that sleeper cells remain a threat and that cursory screening has allowed many Daesh supporters to return to civilian life without facing justice.

There had been growing calls in east Mosul before Friday night's attack for the families of Daesh members to be banished for 10 years, among other measures.

The security forces have been wary of Iraqi members of the terrorist organisation attempting to flee the Old City death trap by blending in with the population, while the Chechen, French and other foreign fighters stay behind to mount a suicidal last stand.

Multiple bombings

In a separate attack on Friday, a suicide bomber blew himself up among civilians fleeing the Old City of Mosul, where increasingly desperate militants are mounting a bloody last stand.

The carnage came just over a day after Daesh blew up the mosque where its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi proclaimed himself "caliph" three years ago, as well as its iconic ancient leaning minaret.

According to a major and medic in the Iraqi army, a bomber who had blended in with fleeing civilians killed at least 12 people in the Mashahda area of the Old City.

A woman who witnessed the suicide attack cries. Around 100,000 more are believed to remain trapped by militants in Mosul. (AFP)
A woman who witnessed the suicide attack cries. Around 100,000 more are believed to remain trapped by militants in Mosul. (AFP)

An Iraqi intelligence officer speaking on condition of anonymity on the edges of the Old City said suicide bombers disguised as members of the security forces were one of the biggest threats as the operation progressed.

He said many of the hundreds of Daesh fighters thought to have been hunkering down in the Old City last week have already been killed.

"There could be no more than 200 left now," he said, as clouds of smoke from strikes and mortar shelling billowed into the sky behind him.

"All the others were killed, except 15 or 20 who were arrested as they tried to flee posing as displaced people," he said.

Close to victory?

Iraqi authorities are hoping to declare victory in the northern Iraqi city during the Muslim Eid holiday, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The Iraqi prime minister said Daesh is near defeat, and predicted that Iraqi forces would retake the city within days.

"Almost 50 percent of the Old City has been retaken. We don't control Nuri but we will within 48 hours," a senior officer in CTS said.

Abdelghani al Assadi, a top commander in the Counter-Terrorism Service that has spearheaded the fighting against Daesh since 2014, remained cautious when asked how much longer the battle might last and said the hardest might be yet to come.

"I cannot give you an exact estimate... but it will take weeks," he said.

Trapped civilians

Civilians left in the Old City's Daesh-held areas face multiple dangers.

Those who attempt to flee have to cross some of the most active front lines in three years of war against Daesh and risk being executed by the militants if they fail to escape.

According to Assadi, around 7,000 people have managed to flee the Old City since an assault was launched on June 18.

Around 100,000 more are believed to remain trapped by militants, who have made human shields a key element in their defence of old Mosul, their last redoubt in Iraq's second city.

Those who choose to stay or have no choice have been essentially besieged for months with scant drinking water and food in areas that are being hit by air strikes and artillery on a daily basis.

Iraqis fleeing the Old City of Mosul are seen at the industrial district of the city on June 23, 2017 after escaping the fighting between Iraqi forces and Daesh. (AFP)
Iraqis fleeing the Old City of Mosul are seen at the industrial district of the city on June 23, 2017 after escaping the fighting between Iraqi forces and Daesh. (AFP)

More than 800,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since tens of thousands of Iraqi forces on October 17 launched the Mosul operation.

The population density of the Old City of Mosul and its narrow streets make the latest push a very dangerous and complicated operation.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies