The Iraqi coalition forces battling against Isis for control of Mosul have managed to fend off a wave of suicide bombers as they force their way into the militant-held heart of the city, the military has said.
Isis launched a major counter attack involving dozens of suicide bombers across the west of the city and in particular on the neighbourhood of Hay al-Tanak just outside the Old City walls on Sunday, Iraqi officials said. Residents’ homes – many of which are being used to shelter fighters and weapons – were set on fire before the situation was brought back under control.
The coalition retaliated with at least 20 air strikes on Sunday, and more overnight. Helicopter bombing and heavy shelling has pounded the last square mile containing around 300 Isis fighters and up to 100,000 civilians, herded into the area by the extremists for use as human shields.
The fight to retake Mosul is in its final stages, but the last push has killed hundreds of civilians and reduced entire neighbourhoods to rubble thanks to heavy coalition bombing – responsible for an unknown number of casualties which rights groups and war monitors say numbers in the thousands.
The blazing 45 degree heat and stench of dead bodies have given the last days of the battle an apocalyptic feel, soldiers on the frontlines report.
Last week, Isis blew up the city’s 12th century Grand Mosque, from which leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the creation of the so-called caliphate after his troops swept across northern Iraq from Syria in the summer of 2014.
The demolition is believed to have been ordered to prevent the coalition forces from claiming a symbolic victory from the same spot.
A total of around 6,000 Isis supporters terrorised Mosul’s residents for three years before the US-backed coalition campaign to oust them from their biggest urban stronghold began in October 2016.
While thousands have been killed or have fled in the fighting, the battle has dragged on longer than initial estimates and inflicted heavy losses on Iraqi troops and civilians. More than 800,000 residents are thought to have fled their homes in total, braving roadside bombs and sniper fire.