(Reuters) Iraqi troops battled ISIS fighters for control of a bridge over the River Tigris in Mosul on Tuesday as civilians streamed out of recaptured western neighborhoods, cold, wet and hungry but relieved to be free of the militants’ grip.
Progress by Interior Ministry Rapid Response units had been slowed by rain on Monday but heavy fighting resumed on Tuesday, with the Iron Bridge the prize at stake.
Government forces also pushed into areas of western Mosul, ISIS last redoubt in the city that has been the de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate.
The troops had advanced to within 100m (330 feet) of the bridge but were slowed by sniper fire from gunmen positioned in high buildings, a Rapid Response media officer told Reuters.
“Our forces managed to resume advancing inside the old city center after weather improved and succeeded in retaking the Korneesh street which runs by the riverside. It’s very key for our forces to secure the riverside and prevent Daesh militants from turning around our advancing forces,” he said, using an Arab acronym for ISIS.
They expected to gain control of the Iron Bridge and the nearby area by the end of the day.
“Seizing the bridge will help further tighten the noose around Daesh fighters entrenched inside the old city,” he said.
The bridge connects Mosul’s Old City with the eastern side of the city. Capturing it would mean Iraqi forces control three of the five bridges in Mosul that span the Tigris, all of which have been damaged by the militants and U.S.-led air strikes. The southernmost two have already been retaken by Iraqi forces.
Since starting the offensive in October, Iraqi forces with U.S.-led coalition support have retaken eastern Mosul and about 30 percent of the west from the militants, who are outnumbered but fiercely defending their last stronghold in Iraq.