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US says Mosul retake imminent as Iraqi forces exult

Iraq will announce imminently a final victory in the nearly nine-month offensive to retake Mosul, a US general said, as celebrations broke out among police forces in areas they control.

The Islamic State (IS) group seized Mosul in a lightning offensive on June 10, 2014 before sweeping across much of the country’s Sunni Arab heartland and proclaiming a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi forces launched their campaign to recapture Mosul in October, and since then IS has gone from holding the entire city to being trapped between security forces and the Tigris River on its western side.

Backed by a ferocious aerial bombing campaign of a US-led international coalition, the offensive has turned much of the city to rubble and forced tens of thousands of people to flee.

Diehard jihadists have been putting up fierce resistance in recent days, but their efforts to keep Iraqi troops from sealing what will be IS’s biggest defeat yet look to be coming to an end.

“An announcement is imminent,” said Brigadier General Robert Sofge.

“I don’t want to speculate if it’s today or tomorrow but I think it’s going to be very soon,” he added.

The jihadists that remain in Mosul are fighting to the death in a tiny area of just two blocks of the Old City next to the Tigris, Brigadier General Sofge said, and those that remain are “desperate.”

Some were trying to blend in with fleeing civilians by shaving their beards and changing their clothes, others were playing dead then detonating explosive vests as Iraqi forces close in.

Women have blown themselves up amid throngs of displaced civilians.

“They are doing as much damage as they can during these final moves,” Brigadier General Sofge said.

The battle for Mosul first began on October 17, 2016 and the fight grew tougher when Iraqi forces entered the warren of narrow alleys in densely populated Old City.

Slowing the advance toward the final holdouts, the IS have placed booby traps and bombs in structures they occupied.

“The enemy has strung IEDs [improvised explosive devices] all over the place, in every place, in every closet, in one case under a crib,” said Brigadier General Sofge.

A final victory in Mosul would mark an epic milestone for the Iraqi security forces, who had crumbled in the face of an IS onslaught across Iraq in 2014.

“They deserve every bit of a celebration and pride and sense of accomplishment that a military force can feel,” Brigadier General Sofge said, offering a “congratulations in advance in a great battle.”

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