Iraq forces move on IS in Mosul but civilians slow advance

AFP , Thursday 1 Jun 2017

US-made armoured vehicles drive down a road in western Mosul's al-Rifai neighbourhood on May 31, 2017 after it was retaken by government forces during their ongoing battle against Islamic State (IS) group fighters (Photo: AFP)

Iraqi forces are advancing on the last areas of Mosul held by the Islamic State (IS) militants but the presence of large numbers of civilians is slowing their progress, a military spokesman said Thursday.

More than seven months into the massive operation to retake Iraq's second city, security forces have recaptured all but a handful of areas of Mosul from IS, but up to 200,000 civilians may be trapped in those still held by IS.

"What is disrupting our advance is the presence of civilians," the spokesman for Iraq's Joint Operations Command, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told AFP.

"We received hundreds of families through safe corridors," secured by Iraqi forces, he said.

The United Nations has said that up to 200,000 civilians may still be in IS-held areas of Mosul, most of them in the Old City which lies immediately south of where the current fighting is taking place.

The area -- a warren of narrow streets and closely-spaced buildings -- has posed a major challenge for security forces, and the coming battle to retake it poses a major threat to civilians.

More than 750,000 people have been displaced since the start of the Mosul operation, according to the UN, and that figure could increase sharply in the final stages of the battle for the city.

Only 150,000 of the displaced have since returned to their homes.

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