Iraqi government forces have begun to surround Mosul's labyrinthine Old City in anticipation that it is where Daesh fighters based here will make their final stand.
Soldiers from the Rapid Response Division have captured Mosul's train station and its football stadium in recent days, as pressure has grown on the Iraqi military over civilian casualties.
The elite Ministry of Interior unit will continue to advance north, until Mosul's Old City is completely surrounded.
Commanders told The New Arab that a corridor would be left open to allow civilians to flee.
Journalists were, however, denied access to Mosul's al-Jadid neighbourhood, where a coalition airstrike is believed to have killed more then 100 civilians on March 17.
The allegations led to the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Services (ICTS), the elite unit in control of the area, pausing operations while an investigation was carried out.
A coalition spokesman told reporters any casualties were "the result of fighting an evil enemy in a dense urban environment where Daesh is using civilians as human shields".
That lull in the attack did not, however, apply to the ERD, which operates independently of coalition air support and with the support of Iraq's Federal Police.
Some ERD commanders, however, are critical of the Federal Police's support.
Major Ahmed, of the ERD's 1st Brigade, said the some Federal Police units tasked with holding ground captured by the ERD overnight have been withdrawing and ceding newly fought territory to Daesh.
"My men are dying for these streets and they [the Federal Police] are just giving it away."
The Rapid Response Division, which numbers around 3,500, has seen its role grow exponentially as fighting has moved into the city's west, and as the ICTS have taken on a more supportive role in the operation.
Though the fall of Daesh in Mosul is a forgone conclusion in the eyes of many, Lieutenant Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi warned against too urgent an assault on the old city, where narrow streets, dark alleys and tight corners make it difficult for large armoured vehicles to progress, forcing foot patrols to risk deadly encounters against insurgent fighters in the casbah, much of which is believed to be rigged with improvised explosive devices.
"We favour a slow and careful fight in the old city; we don't want our men to get hurt," Mohammedawi told The New Arab.
"We could take it in a week, if we wanted to, but we would take a lot of casualties and cause much damage to the Old City."
The Old City is the most densely populated part of Mosul.
As many as 400,000 civilians are believed trapped here. At the city's heart is the Grand Mosque of Al-Nuri, where Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate in 2014.
Its capture will serve as a huge symbolic defeat for Daesh.
Copyright @ 2021 The New Arab.