MOSUL, Iraq, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi forces on Friday pushed deeper into western side of Mosul and seized another neighborhood in southern outskirts of the embattled city after fierce clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants, the Iraq military said.
The commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces completely liberated Wadi Hajar neighborhood and raised the Iraqi flag over some of its buildings, after days of street-to-street battles that left heavy casualties among IS militants, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah, from the Joint Operations Command (JOC), said in a statement.
The CTS special forces have been fighting in other nearby neighborhoods in southern outskirts of the western side of Mosul and are advancing closer to the center of the old part of the city.
Meanwhile, the federal police and interior ministry special forces, known as Rapid Response, are also fighting at the edges of the old neighborhood of Dawassa, where some of main government buildings located.
The troops arrived to the edges of Dawassa after they cleared neighborhoods of Jawasq and Tayaran and secured the foot of a strategic bridge across Tigris River, locally known as 4th Bridge, which links the recently-freed the eastern side of Mosul to the western side.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, announced the start of an offensive on Feb. 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 a population of between 750,000 and 800,000, appears to be a bigger challenge to the Iraqi forces.
Mosul, 400 km north of 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.