Iraqi special forces drove back Islamic State militants in the strategic Mosul University campus on Saturday while elite police units took over large areas along the Tigris river, military officials said.
(REUTERS ) The head of Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) said security forces were close to recapturing the entire east bank of the Tigris, which bisects Mosul from north to south, a gain that will bring at least half of Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq under their control.
Iraqi forces made rapid advances the day before in a nearly 3-month U.S.-backed offensive to recapture Mosul, loss of which would probably spell the end of the Iraqi side of the ultra-hardline group’s self-styled caliphate, declared in 2014.
Capture of the eastern bank of the river will allow the military to begin attacks on western Mosul, which Islamic State still fully holds. The militants have fought back fiercely with car bombs and snipers, and have used civilians as cover.
An air raid during the week targeting a senior IS militant killed up to 30 people, residents said late on Friday.
CTS forces battled IS fighters at the university on Saturday in a second day of clashes there.
„There are still clashes. We entered the university and cleared the technical institute, dentistry and antiquities departments,” Lieutenant General Abdelwahab al-Saadi of the CTS told a Reuters reporter in the complex.
„In the coming hours it will be liberated completely,” he said.
CTS troops had gathered in the university canteen. As they unfurled a map of the area, a suspected Islamic State drone flew overhead and they shot at it.
The Iraqi forces also found chemical substances IS had used to try to make weapons, CTS commander Sami al-Aridhi said.
The United Nations says the militants seized nuclear materials used for scientific research from the university when they overran Mosul and vast areas of northern Iraq and eastern Syria in 2014.