Iraqi forces near their target in Mosul as fight against IS continues

The advancing Iraqi forces are set to reach the main government complex in Mosul by tomorrow

 Iraqi forces near their target in Mosul as fight against IS continues

Image: Bram Janssen AP/Press Association Images

Iraqi forces are set to reach the main government complex in Mosul, their next target in the battle to retake the city from Islamic State.

The complex should be taken on Monday, Lieutenant Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammadawi told the Reuters news agency.

A senior commander said earlier that Iraqi troops have been involved in the "heaviest" clashes yet with IS fighters in the west of the city since the start of their offensive.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched on Sunday a new push towards the Islamic State-held old city centre of Mosul, on the western bank of the Tigris river.

Major General Haider al-Maturi of the Federal Police Commandos Division told the Associated Press that the militants had dispatched at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching Iraqi forces.

He said IS fighters are moving from house to house and deploying snipers after Iraqi forces launched attacks against IS-held neighbourhoods in western Mosul from three points on Sunday morning.

IS fighters have "some mortar (teams) and snipers positioned inside homes," Iraqi special forces Major Ali Talib said, adding that US-led coalition airstrikes have helped destroy some IS defences, but clashes were continuing.

As the fighting continues, the total number of civilians displaced from the city has risen over the last few days.

750,000 trapped in the city 

More than 200,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes, according to the International Organisation for Migration, and The United Nations claims almost 30,000 people have fled since the latest assault began two weeks ago, however it's thought about 750,000 people may still be trapped inside the city.

International aid agencies have voiced fears that camps to accommodate displaced people are approaching full capacity.

The push to recapture the west of the city was launched around two weeks ago after the eastern half of Mosul was declared "fully liberated" in January.

The overall operation to retake the city - which IS has held since the summer of 2014 - began in October after more than two years of slowly taking back territory from IS militants.

 Defeating Islamic State in Mosul would crush the Iraqi wing of the caliphate declared by the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2014, over parts of Iraq and Syria.

Chemical warfare concerns 

In a statement released on Saturday, the UN said that twelve people, including women and children, are being treated for possible exposure to chemical weapons agents in Mosul.

The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, called for an investigation, saying that:

"This is horrible. If the alleged use of chemical weapons is confirmed, this is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime, regardless of who the targets or the victims of the attacks are."

The statement released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) did not say which side used the chemical agents that caused blisters, redness in the eyes, irritation, vomiting and coughing.