MOSUL, Iraq, April 13 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi government forces on Thursday retook control of a new neighborhood in the western side of Mosul after heavy clashes against the Islamic State (IS) militants, the Iraqi military said.
The elite forces, known as Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), completely liberated the neighborhood of Aabar in west of Mosul's old city center and raised the Iraqi flags over some of its buildings after days of fierce clashes with the extremist militants, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, from the Joint Operations Command (JOC), said in a statement.
The troops also seized most of Tanak neighborhood in the far western part of the city, while sporadic battles continued in the nearby neighborhoods of Matahin and Urouba, a security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Thursday battles are part of slow push toward the western edge of Mosul's densely populated old city center, where roughly 400,000 residents are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
Meanwhile, the federal police and interior ministry special forces, known as Rapid Response, continued their battles on the southern and western front lines at the edge of the old city center, the source said.
The troops are trying to advance through the narrow streets in the old neighborhoods around the historical al-Nuri Mosque in the middle of Mosul's old city center, the source said.
Also in the day, the Iraqi military issued new instructions to the trapped families remaining in IS-held neighborhoods in order to avoid being caught in crossfire by spreading in separate buildings to avoid heavy casualties among innocent civilians when the troops advance to dislodge the extremist militants from their neighborhoods, the JOC said in another statement.
The military also told the people to hide into basements of their houses or to stay in the downstairs of their buildings, if no basement available, when clashes erupt in their neighborhoods, the statement said.
The progress in the old city center is much slower than the early phases of the offensive after the troops restricted the use of bombs and increased sniper fire against terrorist militants holed up in densely populated old city center.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, announced the start of an offensive on February 19 to drive extremist militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of Tigris River which bisects the city.
Late in January, Abadi declared the liberation of the eastern side of Mosul, or the left bank of Tigris, after more than 100 days of fighting against IS militants.
However, the western part of Mosul, with its narrow streets and heavily populated neighborhoods, appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi forces.
Mosul, 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.