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Iraqi forces enter Mosul city limits, main urban fight ahead

Published:Wednesday | November 2, 2016 | 11:00 AM

GOGJALI, Iraq (AP):

Iraq's special forces entered the outskirts of Mosul yetserday, taking the state television building and advancing despite fierce resistance by Islamic State group fighters who control the city, an Iraqi general said.

It was the first time in more than two years that Iraqi troops have set foot inside the city, Iraq's second largest. The advance could be the start of a gruelling and slow operation for the troops, who will be forced to engage in difficult, house-to-house fighting in urban areas that is expected to take weeks, if not months.

Troops entered Gogjali, a neighbourhood inside Mosul's city limits, and later the borders of the more built-up Karama district, according to Maj Gen Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces. As the sun went down, a sandstorm blew in, reducing visibility to only 100 metres and bringing the day's combat to an end.

"Daesh is fighting back and have set up concrete blast walls to block off the Karama neighbourhood and our troops' advance," al-Aridi said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. Bombs have been laid along the road into the city, he added.

Later, al-Aridi said the troops had taken the nearby state television building, the only one in the province, and that heavy fighting broke out when they tried to continue further in to built-up areas. An official casualty report has yet to be given, but officers mentioned one dead and one wounded.

Mosul is the final IS urban bastion in Iraq, the city from which it drove out a larger but demoralised Iraqi army in 2014 and declared a 'caliphate' that stretched into Syria. Its loss would be a major defeat for the jihadis, but with the closest Iraqi troops still some 10 kilometres from the city centre, much ground remains to be covered.