U.S.-backed Iraqi forces fought their way on Tuesday into the heart of western Mosul, capturing the government complex in this part of the city from ISIS, a senior Iraqi military commander said.
The advancing troops hoisted an Iraqi flag on the complex of buildings in the Dawasa neighborhood and hailed the federal police units behind the taking of the area as heroes, said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah.
The consistent advance — more than two weeks since the new push started to clear Mosul's western side of ISIS militants — has been a major blow to the extremists who once controlled nearly a third of Iraq.
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Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul "fully liberated" in January after officially launching the operation to retake the city in October.
Yar Allah, who commands the army operations in Ninevah, where Mosul is the provincial capital, said the troops now also control the western side of a second bridge across the Tigris River, known as Hurriyah Bridge.
Last week, the troops reached the first bridge from the south in western Mosul, known locally as the 4th Bridge. U.S.-led airstrikes disabled all of Mosul's five bridges last year in a bid to isolate the militants.
Private Lebanon-based broadcaster Al-Mayadeen aired live footage from Mosul, with thick black smokes rising from different areas as gunfire rattled. The TV footage also showed what it said were explosions from two suicide attacks carried out by ISIS militants against the security forces.
The footage also shows the city's iconic 840-year-old "Crooked Minaret," which leans somewhat like Italy's Tower of Pisa.
Unlike other heritage and archaeological sites in and around Mosul, the Islamic State militants couldn't destroy it as residents formed a human chain around it to protect it when they came to blow it up.
Mosul is Iraq's second-largest city, and its western half — the Tigris divides the city into an eastern and a western sections — is the last significant urban area held by ISIS in the country. Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq.