By Stephen Kalin
MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi forces on Tuesday pushed towards the river side of Mosul’s Old City, their key target in the eight-month campaign to capture Islamic State’s de-facto capital, and Iraq’s prime minister predicted victory very soon.
Iraqi forces, battling up to 350 militants dug in among civilians in the Old City, said federal police had dislodged IS insurgents from the Ziwani mosque and were only a few days away from ousting militants completely from the Old City.
“The victory announcement will come in a very short time,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on his website on Monday evening.
“The operation is continuing to free the remaining parts of the Old City,” Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi of the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) told a Reuters correspondent near the frontline in the heart of the Old City.
Iraqi forces had about 600 meters (2,000 ft) of ground left to cover before reaching Mosul’s Corniche road along the western bank of the Tigris, federal police commander Lieutenant General Raed Shaker Jawdat told Iraqi State TV.
“In a few days our forces will reach Corniche and bring the battle to its conclusion,” said Jawdat.
The fall of the northern Iraqi city would mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate” proclaimed by Islamic State, though the militant group remains in control of large areas of both Iraq and Syria.
In Syria, the Islamic State-held capital of Raqqa, is virtually encircled by a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led coalition.
Federal police and elite CTS units in Mosul were battling with IS fighters in the Old City’s maze of narrow alleyways, along with the army and interior ministry units.
Islamic State has lost about half the Old City since the battle for the historic district started ten days ago. About one sq km (0.4 sq mile) remained under its control, according to Iraqi state TV.
The army’s 16th infantry division seized on Tuesday the al-Mashahda quarter, in the northwestern corner of the Old City, and federal…