Iraqi forces free new areas from IS in western Mosul

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Iraqi forces gained ground in the western side of Mosul on Sunday, as the troops faced strong resistance from IS militants and heavy casualties among civilians at the battleground neighborhoods, the Iraqi military said.

The commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) liberated the neighborhoods of Wadi al-Ayn and Rajm al-Hadid in the western edges of Mosul after days of heavy clashes against IS militants, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, from the Joint Operations Command said in a statement.

Elite troops continued their heavy clashes against IS militants in several nearby neighborhoods, as they advanced closer to Mosul's western edge and densely populated old city center, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be still trapped under IS rule.

Meanwhile, the federal police and elite interior ministry's Rapid Response Brigades continued slow progress in Mosul's old city center by the strong resistance of the extremist militants and the presence of civilians.

Also in the day, the army's 9th armored division freed Badoush cement factory in northwest of Mosul after defeating IS militants, leaving many extremist militants killed, Yarallah said in a separate statement.

The fierce battles in western Mosul caused heavy casualties among civilians.

The latest report by the Iraqi Migration and Displaced Ministry said that some 415,000 civilians left their homes in Mosul's both eastern and western sides since the beginning of the military offensive in October to reclaim the IS' largest stronghold in Iraq.

Earlier, media reports said hundreds of civilians were buried under the debris of their houses by heavy bombardments of U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi aircraft during the past few days.

On Friday, the United Nations expressed concerns about reports of civilian casualties in Mosul, and urged the parties of the conflict to avoid such casualties.

"We are stunned by this terrible loss of life and wish to express our deepest condolences to the many families that have reportedly been impacted by this tragedy," a UN statement quoted Lise Grande, the humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, as saying.

"Nothing in this conflict is more important than protecting civilians. All parties of the conflict are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians. This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of fire power," Grande said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, announced the start of an offensive on Feb. 19 to drive extremist militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of the Tigris River which bisects the city.

Late in January, Abadi declared the liberation of Mosul's eastern side, or the left bank of Tigris, after over 100 days of fighting IS militants.

However, the western part of Mosul, with its narrow streets and a population of between 750,000 and 800,000, appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi forces.

Mosul, 400 km north of Iraqi capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their posts and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.

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