Iraqi army edges closer to Mosul mosque

Iraqi government forces besiege ISIS jihadists around Mosul's Old City.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Iraqi security forces south of Mosul
Iraqi security forces south of Mosul

Iraqi government forces on Thursday besieged Islamic State jihadists around Mosul's Old City as they edged closer to the historic mosque from where the group's leader declared a caliphate nearly three years ago, Reuters reports.

The jihadists, holed up in houses and darting through alleyways, resisted with sniper fire, suicide attacks and car bombs, according to the news agency.

Iraqi government forces have made significant gains in recent days in a battle that started in October, seizing a main bridge over the Tigris river and closing in on the mosque.

"We are holding positions we took yesterday. There is a lot of resistance in that area with snipers and car bombs," Federal Police Major General Haider Dhirgham told Reuters.

The capture of the al-Nuri Mosque would be a huge symbolic victory as well as a concrete gain.

"It's important for them, it's where they declared their state," Dhirgham said, speaking at a police forward base.

In July of 2014, ISIS declared a caliphate in the large swathes of Syria and Iraq that it seized. The group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi chose the mosque as his backdrop for making the announcement.

Since then, Mosul has been the group's main urban stronghold in Iraq but it has steadily lost ground since the offensive began. Iraqi leaders say the battle is reaching its final stages, according to Reuters.

The group is also under pressure in neighboring Syria, where three separate forces are advancing on Raqqa, ISIS’s de-facto capital in Syria.