MOSUL, Iraq—The Iraqi army said Nov. 13 that troops have driven ISIS terrorists out of the town of Nimrud, south of Mosul, near the site of famed ancient Assyrian ruins that were reportedly destroyed by the extremists.
Iraq’s special forces meanwhile battled extremists in the city of Mosul itself, where they struggled to advance against waves of suicide car bombs.
Troops are converging from several fronts on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the biggest urban area under ISIS control, as part of an offensive launched last month. The special forces have advanced the furthest so far, and hold a handful of districts on the city’s eastern edge.
The commander of the Mosul operation said troops took Nimrud, some 19 miles to the south, after heavy fighting. It was unclear if they had liberated the nearby 13th-century B.C. archaeological site.
“The 9th division of the Iraqi army has liberated the town of Nimrud completely and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings after the enemy suffered heavy casualties,” Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Raheed Yar Allah said in a statement.
The late 1980s discovery of treasures in Nimrud’s royal tombs was one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds. The government said terrorists, who captured the site in June 2014, destroyed it the following year using heavy military vehicles.
In Mosul itself, the special forces say they have cleared the Qadisiya and Zahra neighborhoods, and are planning to advance further in the coming hours. Over the past week they have inched forward slowly, trying to avoid casualties among their troops and civilians as suicide bombers in armor-plated vehicles rush forward from hiding spots among densely populated areas.
“The only weapons they have left are car bombs and explosives,” said Iraqi special forces Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi as he radioed with commanders in the field. “There are so many civilian cars and any one of them could be a bomb,” he said.
Troops were building berms and road blocks to prevent car bombs from breaching the front lines. Since last week’s quick advance into Mosul proper, they have struggled to hold territory under heavy ISIS counterattacks.
Several suicide car bombers attacked the advancing special forces on Saturday, wounding around a dozen troops, three civilians, and killing a child, officers said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters.
The Iraqi armed forces do not release official casualty figures, but field medics have noted dozens of killed and wounded since the operation to liberate the city began on Oct. 17.
Civilians are paying a heavy toll in the battle for Mosul, with nearly 50,000 forced from their homes, most living in displaced persons camps. The Norwegian Refugee Council said Sunday that conditions were worsening for non-combatants, especially over the past week.
“Civilians have told us of horrific stories from inside Mosul,” said Wolfgang Gressmann, the group’s Iraq director. “They have given terrifying accounts of IS moving them from neighborhood to neighborhood, and from house to house, in tactics identical with being used as human shields.”