Surprise attack sees Iraqi forces advance near key Mosul mosque
A member of the Iraqi forces stands next to an armored vehicle in Mosul, April 16 2017. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)
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Iraqi forces on Sunday took control of the area surrounding a symbolically significant mosque in the northern city of Mosul after a surprise attack on the Islamic State extremist militia, a senior security official said.
Lieutenant-General Raed Chaker, the chief of the militarized federal police, said that his forces had launched a surprise encirclement operation early Sunday in the Old City of western Mosul, where the historic al-Nouri Mosque is located.
The mosque, famous for its leaning minaret, is where Islamic State [Daesh] leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a rare public appearance in July 2014 to promote his self-styled Islamist caliphate.
In recent weeks, Iraqi forces' push to regain the 12th century mosque has been slowed down by Islamic State's stiff resistance and dense population in the area.
"The enemy is retreating," Chaker said Sunday, referring to Islamic State fighters, adding that police snipers were positioned on rooftops with full control over the area around the mosque.
On February 19, Iraqi troops started a US-backed offensive to regain western Mosul from Islamic State, almost a month after they recaptured the eastern part of the city.
Islamic State seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, in a blitz in mid-2014.
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