2017-03-02 18:43:00
Iraqi special forces are facing "fierce" resistance as they battle the Islamic State group in southwest Mosul, a commander says. Video provided by AFP Newslook Displaced Iraqis flee the city of Mosul as Iraqi forces battle against Islamic State group jihadists to recapture the west of the city. (Photo: Aris Messinis, AFP/Getty Images) The Iraqi military claimed to shut down the Islamic State's last escape route out of western Mosul and was poised to take control of government buildings amid heavy fighting, Iraqi leaders said Wednesday. Maj. Gen Thamir al-Hussaini told the Associated Press his rapid-response forces were advancing along the Tigris River after retaking a crucial bridge that is now allowing civilians to flee to government-controlled areas of the city. “In the coming day we will clear the government buildings,” he said from the nearby village of Abu Saif. The eastern side of Mosul was recaptured last month. Government forces have since driven militants from the international airport, a military base, a power station and a number of residential areas, the military says. Brig. Gen. Yahia Rasoul, spokesperson of the Joint Operations Command, stressed again Wednesday that the role of U.S.-led coalition forces remains limited to airstrikes and air support, training, intelligence. U.S.-trained counterterrorism units battled Islamic State sniper and mortar fire in an eastward advance that brought them together with the rapid response forces, he said. “We have advisers from the United States, the U.K., Australia and the rest of coalition member states," Rasoul told the Iraqi News Service. “Those who plan and lead the military operations, those who advance against the enemy on the ground are the sons of the Iraqi joint troops from all stripes." Also Wednesday, the new Turkish ambassador to Iraq, Fatih Yildiz, said more than 300,000 Iraqi citizens are now temporarily living in Turkey. "We are not saying that these are displaced people or refugees," he told the National Iraqi News Agency. "We call them guests staying with us temporarily, and we hope they return to their land as soon as possible." The United Nations World Food Programme issued a report this week saying it was "extremely concerned" about the humanitarian situation facing families in western Mosul, where it estimated more than 750,000 people are living in "dire conditions." “WFP is monitoring the front lines and remains ready to provide immediate food assistance as soon as families can be reached safely,” said Sally Haydock, the agency's Iraq representative and country director. “We are hearing from some families that food has drastically risen in price and is unaffordable. In extreme cases, people cannot access food at all. We appeal to all parties to the conflict to facilitate immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to all Iraqis in need of assistance.”