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Iraqi forces take strategic bridge as battle for Mosul 'nears end'

Iraqi forces take strategic bridge as battle for Mosul 'nears end'”

The troops are now said to be within 100m (330 ft) of the Iron Bridge linking west and east Mosul, but operating in the shadow of Isis snipers.

A prominent Iraqi Sunni politician on Monday warned Washington the acceleration in a military campaign in western Mosul to drive out Islamic State jihadists was causing a sudden surge in civilian casualties that threatened to undermine the effort to crush the militants.

Lt. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat said that forces from the Rapid Response Division, another special forces unit, and the federal police were working to search and clear territory on the edge of Mosul's Old City.

The renewed fighting has focused on a bridge over the River Tigris.

Over 65,000 have fled their homes in the past few weeks, according to the International Organization for Migration and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA). Tens of thousands have been pouring into camps outside Mosul.

Since starting the offensive in October, Iraqi forces with US-led coalition and Iranian support via Shia jihadist organisations have retaken eastern Mosul and claim to have taken about 30 per cent of the west from the militants, who are outnumbered but fiercely defending their last stronghold in Iraq.

Staff Brigadier Falah al-Obeidi of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) told the news agency Reuters that his troops had also taken control of the Dor al-Sikak and the al-Nafut areas, sites of IS' main weapons stores just west of the Old City.

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Amid the combat, a steady stream of refugees trudged out of the western districts, carrying suitcases, bottles of water and other possessions.

Soldiers packed them into trucks on the Mosul-Baghdad highway to be taken to processing areas.

Deepening the disenchantment of Iraq's Sunnis would only further alienate them and risk worsening the country's security problems and even bring the emergence of even more hardline Sunni groups once the militants are defeated, he said. The decisive stage in the battle for Mosul started on October 17 previous year.

Eastern Mosul recently fell to the anti-ISIS U.S. -backed offensive of almost 100,000 Iraqi government forces, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and Iran-backed Shiite militias, among other fighters. "We are facing stiff resistance from Daesh fighters with snipers and mortars", an Iraqi official said.

He also financed local tribal Sunni groups that fought Islamic State when it first emerged in strength in Iraq.

Losing the city would be a huge blow to Islamic State as it has served as the group's de facto capital since its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed himself head of a caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria from the Nuri Mosque in July 2014.

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