Iraqi special forces are holding their positions in Mosul a day after entering the Islamic State-held city for the first time since 2014.
Amid poor visibility for the US-led aircraft and drones that have backed Iraqi forces in their assault on the country’s second largest city, special forces general Haider Fadhil told Associated Press no new advances within Mosul were planned for Wednesday.
Fighting continued on the southern approaches to the city, where Iraqi troops took four small villages.
Baghdad said on Tuesday its elite troops had breached the eastern suburbs of Isis’s last major urban stronghold in Iraq, creating a toehold in the Jdeidet al-Mufti neighbourhood after two weeks of combat and heralding a fierce urban battle in the weeks ahead.
Special forces units also entered the neighbourhood of Gogjali inside the city’s limits and took control of the local state television building. Reports said guns had largely gone silent in Gogjali after intense fighting on Tuesday but sporadic rifle and artillery fire could be heard.
Troops in Gogjali could be seen going house to house while sappers searched the road for explosives and booby traps left behind by the jihadis.
General Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi, the top counterterrorism forces commander, told reporters a curfew had been imposed in the neighbourhood while gains there were being consolidated.
Concerns have mounted over the fate of civilians, with Isis accused of using them as human shields to slow the alliance’s advance. The Norwegian Refugee Council, which works with refugees and internally displaced Iraqis, warned that the lives of more than 1 million civilians trapped inside Mosul were “in grave danger” as Iraqi troops advanced.
The council’s Iraq chief, Wolfgang Gressmann, said the agency’s aid workers “are now bracing ... for the worst. The lives of 1.2 million civilians are in grave danger, and the future of all of Iraq is now in the balance.” The organisation said about 18,000 Iraqis had fled their homes since the start of the military operation to retake the city.
Mosul was conquered in a lightning Isis advance in the summer of 2014, falling to the militants along with much of the surrounding Nineveh plains.
The battle for Mosul will be the toughest test yet for Iraqi forces, who are converging on the city alongside Kurdish peshmerga, Sunni tribal fighters and Shia militias, tasked with blocking a potential retreat for the militants into the eastern desert of Syria. The coalition is backed by American air power and military advisers on the ground.
The estimated number of civilians inside Mosul has fluctuated from 1-2 million, making it by far the largest city under Isis control and a key flank of the group’s self-proclaimed but quickly receding caliphate.
The eastern half of Mosul, which is divided by the Tigris river, would be first to fall from Isis control, and the group is believed to have booby-trapped the bridges into western districts. Isis is believed to have 5,000-6,000 fighters holed up in the city, though US officials have said in recent days that senior leaders of the group were attempting to flee.