The final assault is part of a military campaign launched in October to retake the last stronghold of Daesh in Iraq. The Old City area is a densely-populated maze of narrow alleyways where about 100,000 civilians still remain trapped.

Smoke billows from Mosul's Old City on June 18, 2017, during the ongoing offensive against Daesh by Iraqi forces.
Smoke billows from Mosul's Old City on June 18, 2017, during the ongoing offensive against Daesh by Iraqi forces.

Iraqi forces launched a final assault on the Daesh-held Old City of Mosul on Sunday as part of the eight-month campaign to retake the group's last stronghold in Iraq.

The historic district is the last still under control of Daesh in the city which used to be their capital in Iraq. The group seized control of the northern city and declared their "caliphate" in June 2014.

"This is the final chapter" in the offensive to take Mosul, said Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, commander of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) elite units spearheading the assault.

A US-led international coalition is providing air and ground support to the campaign.

TRT World spoke to Baghdad-based Journalist Ammar Karim for the latest.

Densely populated

Mosul's Old City area is a densely-populated maze of narrow alleyways where fighting is often conducted house by house.

About 100,000 civilians remain trapped there in harrowing conditions, with little food, water and medicine and limited access to hospitals, according to the United Nations.

"This will be a terrifying time for around 100,000 people still trapped in Mosul's Old City ... now at risk of getting caught up in the fierce street fighting to come," the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement.

The buildings of the old town are particularly vulnerable to collapse even if they aren't directly targeted, which could lead to even more civilian deaths than the hundreds killed so far in air strikes across the rest of the city.

"We are trying to be very careful, using only light and medium weapons ... to avoid casualties among civilians," CTS commander Major General Maan Saadi told Iraqi state TV.

Civilians killed

Hundred of civilians were killed near the frontlines in the past three weeks while fleeing the Old City, as Iraqi forces couldn't fully secure exit corridors.

Daesh snipers are shooting at families trying to flee on foot or by boat across the Tigris River, as part of a tactic to keep civilians as human shields, the UN said on Friday.

"We expect thousands of families to escape from the Old City; we made all preparations to evacuate them from the frontlines," army colonel Salam Faraj said.

The Iraqi army thinks the number of Daesh fighters in the Old City doesn't exceed 300, down from nearly 6,000 when the battle of Mosul started, on October 17 last year.

End of half "caliphate"

Iraqi government forces regained eastern Mosul in January, then a month later began the offensive on the side located west of the Tigris, which includes the Old City.

The government initially hoped to take Mosul by the end of 2016, but the campaign took longer as militants dug in the middle of civilians to fight back.

Daesh is also using suicide car and motorbike bombs, booby traps and sniper and mortar fire against the troops.

The fall of Mosul would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the "caliphate" that Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared in a speech from an historic mosque in the Old City three years ago, covering parts of Iraq and Syria.

The group is also retreating in Syria, mainly in the face of a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition. Its capital there, Raqqa, is being besieged.

Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul and Raqqa to field commanders, to become effectively a fugitive focused on his own survival in the border area between Iraq and Syria.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies