The Iraqi federal police and army are making steady progress in the offensive to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and to bring the demise of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed Caliphate in Iraq.
On Saturday and Sunday, elite forces waged a fierce battle to get closer to the famous al-Nuri mosque in the old city of Mosul. The mosque has special significance because the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed the new Caliphate there in July 2014.
Capture of the al-Nuri mosque would be a huge boost to the morale of the Iraqi forces and could further demoralize the remaining ISIS terrorists in west Mosul.
The progress, however, has been hindered by bad weather and the fact that the battle is taking place among roughly 600,000 civilians, most of whom are residing in the densely populated old city with its narrow streets and warrens of alleyways.
“Our forces are 800 meters from the mosque, and the fighting is street by street and house by house,” said Captain Firas al-Zuwaidi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Rapid Response Force, while helicopters were hovering over the al-Nuri mosque, firing on ISIS’ snipers on the roofs of the houses and other ISIS targets in the old city.
“The difficulties are the presence of families, how to avoid opening fire on families who are used as human shields,” added Brigadier General Abbas al-Juburi of the Rapid Response Force.
Earlier last weekend other Iraqi troops who are aided by the Iranian-backed Hash al-Shaabi Shiite militia recaptured three neighborhoods in west Mosul.
The Counter Terrorism Service retook the al-Jadida district, and on Sunday took back the Nablus neighborhood in western Mosul killing scores of ISIS terrorists.
The 9th Armored Division of the Iraqi army, meanwhile, succeeded in regaining control over the al-Molawwathah neighborhood on the west bank of the Tigris River.
The Islamic State is responding to the advances of the Iraqi government forces by blowing up houses that were used as headquarters and by introducing new suicide bombing vehicles.
On Friday last week, for example, ISIS used a suicide bulldozer packed with explosives to destroy barricades near the Mosul museum, killing four Iraqi soldiers and ripping apart dozens of vehicles and even a U.S.-made Abrams tank.
The Daily Beast reported Sunday that the Islamic State is now also manufacturing professional grade armored war Jeeps by modifying Cherokee Jeeps and Japanese SUV’s.
Forces of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition recently captured such an armored vehicle and were stunned by the level of engineering by ISIS.
The captured ISIS Jeep had “neatly-welded metal plates, an opening at the top for a machine- gunner and firing ports along the sides for the occupants’ rifles,” according to the Daily Beast.
The technique of modifying normal cars and turning them in armored vehicles dates back to WWII when the British military began to slap sheets of steel armor on civilian trucks after running out of regular armored vehicles.
ISIS has set up a whole industry to produce modified armored vehicles that are often used in suicide attacks. Nothing short of missiles, rocket-propelled grenades or artillery can stop them when they speed towards their targets.
In Mosul these armored vehicles or “VBIED’s” as the U.S. military calls them, are now used in the narrow streets of the old city of Mosul where they have proven to be a deadly and effective tool against the advances of the Iraqi army and federal police. This is due to the fact that no one will use a missile or an RPG there because of the presence of the civilian population.
Video was published by the Pentagon of an airstrike by a U.S. warplane on an ISIS VBIED. The U.S. military in Iraq destroyed ISIS tactical units, nine fighting positions, mortars, vehicles, an unmanned-aerial-vehicle launch site, a building, and machine-gun and sniper positions.