By FELIPE DANA
MOSUL, Iraq— Iraqi troops were clearing up a key neighborhood in Mosul on Friday, commanders said, a day after making significant gains against Islamic State militants in the city and after the country’s prime minister declared an end to the extremist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi and Lt. Col. Salam Hussein told The Associated Press that their forces were continuing to clear territory in the Old City after capturing the hugely symbolic al-Nuri Mosque on Thursday, following a dawn push into the Mosul neighborhood.
Al-Saadi said his forces were also continuing to push forward from the Old City and on Friday reached within 700 meters (766 yards) of the Tigris River, which divides Mosul roughly into an eastern and western half.
The mosque and its famed 12th century minaret were blown up by IS last week — an indication, the Iraqi government said, of the militants’ imminent loss of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
Later Thursday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the full liberation of the city is near and that Iraq’s “brave forces will bring victory.”
The operation to retake Mosul, closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition, was launched in October, with the Iraqi government initially pledging the city would be liberated in 2016.
But instead, it has been a long and deadly fight — eight months on, IS holds less than two square kilometers (0.8 square miles) of the city. Clashes have displaced more than 850,000 people, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The Old City, with its tightly packed houses and narrow alleys, has seen some of the most difficult urban combat. Damaged and destroyed houses dot the areas retaken by Iraqi forces and the stench of rotting bodies rises from beneath collapsed buildings.
While the Islamic State group has not confirmed any Mosul losses, its media arm, the Aamaq news agency, carried reports of fierce fighting Friday on the city’s outskirts and in the neighborhoods of Bab Jadid, al-Mashahda and Bab al-Beidh, claiming IS fighters killed more than 50 Iraqi soldiers there.
Though IS claims are often exaggerated, the fact that the reports made no mention of the Old City was significant and could be interpreted as indirect confirmation of losses there.
Another IS media outlet, the weekly al-Nabaa, on Thursday cited an unnamed commander of the militants as saying that the battle for Mosul is a fight “either to achieve victory or…