Iraq’s prime minister on Tuesday congratulated his fighters on “this big victory in Mosul” — even as fighting with ISIS militants continued in Mosul’s Old City neighbourhood where Iraqi forces are about 250 metres from the Tigris River and facing increasingly brutal resistance.

Haider al-Abadi spoke during a news conference in Baghdad, less than a week after he declared an end to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s self-styled caliphate after Iraqi forces achieved an incremental win by retaking the landmark al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City.

“Praise be to God, we managed to liberate [Mosul] and proved the others were wrong, the people of Mosul supported and stood with our security forces against terrorism,” al-Abadi said.

His remarks came on the third anniversary of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s sermon at the al-Nuri Mosque, from where he declared an Islamic caliphate on ISIS-held lands in Syria and Iraq.

‘Fight to the death’

Also during the news conference, al-Abadi added that he has given instructions to rebuild and stabilize areas of the city already freed from the militant group.

Lt.-Gen. Abdel Ghani al-Asadi, of Iraq’s special forces, said earlier in the day that Iraqi forces are just 250 metres from the Tigris River, in the western half of Mosul. The Tigris divides the city roughly into its western and eastern half, which was liberated from ISIS militants back in January.


Iraqi Federal Police members hold an ISIS flag that they pulled down during fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS militants in the Old City of Mosul on Tuesday. (Ahmed Saad/Reuters)

ISIS militants who remain trapped in just a few hundred metres of territory in the Old City are now in a “fight to the death,” al-Asadi said, adding that ISIS fighters are increasingly resorting to suicide bombings and that he expects the fighting to get even heavier as they are pushed closer to the river.

Iraqi forces marked a significant victory this week when the Rapid Response Division retook Mosul’s main hospital complex on the city’s western side.

The building that once held the city’s best medical facilities now sits devastated by the fight. For weeks, a handful of ISIS snipers perched in the main hospital’s top floors held back hundreds of Iraqi forces.

Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake Mosul, the country’s second largest city, in October. ISIS overran Mosul in a matter of days in 2014. At the height of the extremists’ power, they held nearly a third of Iraq.