Iraqi forces say defenses, civilians hamper Mosul advance

Mosul Iraq

The advance on the southern front comes days after Iraqi special forces fought their way into the eastern side of Mosul, taking control of six neighborhoods according to Iraqi officials and restoring a foothold in the city for the first time since the army retreated ignominiously two years ago.

As he spoke, dozens of civilians in the Tahrir and Zahara districts emerged from their homes, some of them carrying white flags, and headed toward the troops to be evacuated from the battlefield.

Iraqi commander General Sami Aridi told state media his forces were continuing to advance.

Jabouri said a man he described as a senior Islamic State figure, Ammar Salih Ahmed Abu Bakr, was killed by federal police - who are fighting with the army in Hammam al-Alil - as he tried to escape from Hammam al-Khalil by vehicle. Sniper duels played out from rooftops in the mostly residential areas, where the majority of buildings are two stories high. Many civilians traveling with children and elderly relatives said they had to walk more than 6 miles (10 kilometers) to reach a camp for the displaced.

"Daesh is in the city center and we must be very careful as our forces advance", said Maj.

As the battle for the Islamic State group's final stronghold in Iraq intensified, more reports surfaced of terrified civilians being held back by the militants to be used as human shields as Iraqi forces pressed into more densely populated neighborhoods of the country's second largest city.

"They're moving in front of the mosque", an Iraqi soldier said as he called in an airstrike, which moments later flattened a small building.

Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi says Sunday that elaborate defenses built by IS and the presence of civilians have slowed progress.

He said Iraqi forces and the coalition "developed a plan that is meant to reduce the possibility of civilian casualties and collateral damage".

"We've never been in such a situation before".

The city has been under the IS control for more than two years.

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The images taken Monday and made public Saturday by Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, show rows of concrete barricades, earthen berms and rubble blocking key routes leading to the core of the city.

The operation to retake Mosul is expected to take weeks if not months.

This satellite image taken October 31, 2016, shows the Islamic State group's defensive line in southern Mosul, Iraq. On Friday, forces began pushing into Mosul proper, but so far have only advanced just over a kilometer (mile) into the city.

More than 3,000 Iraqi troops took part in the assault under heavy US -led coalition air support, but the pace of the fight also slowed as Iraqi forces moved from fighting in more rural areas with few civilians to the tight, narrow streets of Mosul proper.

Kurdish television channel Rudaw broadcast live footage of Iraqi troops and armored vehicles amassing outside the city as an attack helicopter fired rockets into the city.

In Hammam al-Alil, the jihadists had taken hundreds of people as human shields, although Jabouri said it was not clear how many people were left in the town.

Another 150 families from the town were moved to Mosul itself, it said.

Men are held by Iraqi national security agents, to be interrogated at a checkpoint, as oil fields burn in Qayara, south of Mosul, Iraq.

Other civilians have embarked on their own harrowing journeys to escape the fighting.

Based on agreements between Baghdad and Erbil, Peshmerga forces will not enter Mosul, Hussein added.

On Saturday, after government forces pushed further into the city, they were able to return home, but he said there was no telling how long they would be able to stay.