The assault is aimed at completing the siege of Mosul's Old City, where Daesh terrorists, holding huge numbers of civilians hostage, are still holding out.

A member of the Iraqi forces walks inside Al Salam hospital destroyed during the fighting between Iraqi forces and Daesh east of Mosul, Iraq, May 2, 2017.
A member of the Iraqi forces walks inside Al Salam hospital destroyed during the fighting between Iraqi forces and Daesh east of Mosul, Iraq, May 2, 2017.

Iraqi forces thrust into west Mosul from the north on Thursday, opening a new front in the more than six-month offensive to dislodge Daesh from the country's second city.

The assault is aimed at sealing the Old City to complete a siege, where Daesh terrorists holding huge numbers of civilians hostage are holding out.

Forces from the army, the interior ministry and the police "began breaching the western side from the north," the Joint Operations Command (JOC) coordinating the war against Daesh said in a statement.

"Now your sons are fighting and striking the enemy's defences ... They rejoice in victory or martyrdom for the sake of liberating the rest of the city of Mosul from Daesh terrorists," it said.

The JOC said the targets of the latest push were northwestern neighbourhoods on the edges of Mosul called Musharifah, Kanisah and Al-Haramat.

Members of the Iraqi Federal Police in western Mosul, Iraq, May 2, 2017. (Reuters)
Members of the Iraqi Federal Police in western Mosul, Iraq, May 2, 2017. (Reuters)

The federal police issued a statement confirming the new operation, which comes after a relative lull in fighting around the Old City where most remaining Daesh fighters are believed to be holed up.

It said Iraqi forces had already captured a small outlying village called Hsunah and a nearby gas factory.

Thursday's operation opens a new front in the effort to wrest back west Mosul from Daesh. The campaign to retake west Mosul launched in mid-February and saw thousands of Iraqi forces retake most southern and western neighbourhoods.

An advance from the north will eventually leave Daesh completely trapped in the narrow streets of the Old City, albeit with a large civilian population they have been using as human shields.

Civilian displacement

The United Nations said up to 400,000 people might be trapped in the densely populated Old City, which lies just west of the Tigris River that divides Mosul.

The Iraqi immigration ministry said this week that the number of people who were displaced since the start of the offensive on Mosul on October 17 had topped 600,000.

A wounded displaced man is evacuated by Iraqi forces as he crosses the Tigris by a military boat after the bridge was temporarily closed, south of Mosul, Iraq, May 4, 2017. (Reuters)
A wounded displaced man is evacuated by Iraqi forces as he crosses the Tigris by a military boat after the bridge was temporarily closed, south of Mosul, Iraq, May 4, 2017. (Reuters)

The vast majority of them fled homes on the west side of the Tigris, where the fighting has been more intense than in east Mosul, which was declared retaken by the government in January.

Of the more than 120,000 people displaced from east Mosul, the ministry said only 42,000 were still in camps.

The recapture of Mosul by the Iraqi security forces would deal a death blow to the "caliphate," which Daesh proclaimed over large parts of Syria and Iraq nearly three years ago.

An Iraqi woman carrying a child walks at a camp for internally displaced people in Hammam al Alil after fleeing west Mosul due to the government forces ongoing offensive against Daesh on May 3, 2017. (AFP)
An Iraqi woman carrying a child walks at a camp for internally displaced people in Hammam al Alil after fleeing west Mosul due to the government forces ongoing offensive against Daesh on May 3, 2017. (AFP)

It would represent a major symbolic setback for the group whose attempty to establish a so-called "Islamic State" in the region was heralded by the conquest of Mosul in June 2014.

The northern city is where Iraq-born Daesh leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi — who has urged his men to defend Mosul to the death — made his only public appearance in July that year.

According to the authorities, Daesh now controls less than seven percent of Iraq, down from more than a third of the national territory in 2014.

Daesh has in recent days carried out diversionary attacks against security forces from their desert hideouts in the western province of Anbar.

At least 26 members of the army, police, tribal forces and border guard died in the attacks but the Daesh "state" has looked doomed for months.

Observers have warned that, with other anti-Daesh forces also pressing a major offensive on their last major Syrian bastion of Raqqa, the terrorist group could increasingly revert to guerrilla tactics and bombings of civilian targets.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies