The operation, announced Saturday by Iraq's Joint Operations Command, comes after Iraqi troops have cleared most of the western parts of Mosul, leaving a small pocket of Islamic State fighters spread across a handful of neighborhoods along the western bank of the Tigris River. It also makes it much more hard for USA airstrikes to pinpoint with great accuracy any of these suspected ISIS positions who are hiding among the residents of the in the civilan population here.
The Colonel added that around 50,000 fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) supported by the International Coalition were now getting prepared to regain the Syrian city of Raqqa.
Iraqi forces launched a major operation to retake Mosul in October previous year, fighting their way to the city and retaking its eastern side before setting their sights on its smaller but more densely populated west.
Old City siege draws out Mosul fight and endangers trapped civilians as Iraqi forces inch toward victory against IS.
The Old City is also still controlled by ISIS, and authorities hope to close in on that neighborhood with their new offensive, police said. When Iraqi forces slowed their advances to just a few hundred meters a day and coordinated moves across multiple fronts, IS defenses thinned and Iraqi forces were able to secure more victories and reduce military casualties.
A woman from al-Rifai neighborhood, who fled with her daughter after their house collapsed in an explosion, said her two sisters and their families were still inside the Old City.
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Iraqi government armed forces are focusing their effort on dislodging insurgents from the city of Mosul, IS's de-facto capital in Iraq.
On Friday, Iraqi planes dropped leaflets over the area, encouraging the civilians to flee "immediately" to "safe passages" where they will be greeted by "guides, protectors and (transportation) to reach safe places", according to a government statement.
Iraqi forces seized the eastern portion of Mosul in January, but the western portion half has proven to be a much more hard fight, and one that does not appear to be coming to an end any time soon.
Iraqi forces backed by the global coalition have been fighting to drive out the IS from western Mosul, but several neighbourhoods, including the densely-populated old city centre, are still under the group's control. The Iraqi government said more than 742,000 people have left Mosul and surrounding areas since the offensive began.
The push inside the Old City coincides with the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Civilians too have been caught in the crossfire, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced and thousands dead.
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