A suicide car bomber from the Islamic State group (IS) attacked Iraqi special forces in Mosul on Saturday, setting off heavy fighting in the northern city.
The early morning attack in the Qadisiya neighbourhood, which troops entered a day earlier, was followed by a barrage of gunfire, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, Iraqi officers said.
Fighting was also underway in the adjoining Arbajiya neighbourhood, the officers added, speaking on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to brief reporters.
The Iraqi armed forces do not release casualty figures, but field medics have noted dozens of killed and wounded since the operation to liberate Iraq’s second largest city began on October 17.
Iraqi special forces entered Mosul earlier this month, gaining a foothold on the city’s eastern edges. But the advance has slowed as they push into more densely populated neighbourhoods.
The urban landscape inside Mosul proper makes defence easier for the militants, eager to hold on to the last major Iraqi stronghold of their self-styled caliphate. Defeat in Mosul would be a major blow to their project, and they have said they are ready to fight to the death.
To the south of the city, militarised Iraqi police have come within five kilometers of Mosul’s airport, which satellite images show has been heavily fortified.
The images, taken earlier this month by US-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, show IS fighters have cleared terrain and levelled buildings around the airport and a nearby former military base on the west bank of the Tigris River. Rows of concrete barricades, earthen mounds and rubble are blocking other key routes into the city center.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, bombings killed at least nine people and wounded 32 others, according to police and medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The deadliest of the attacks hit the Kifah neighbourhood in the city center, ripping through an area full of auto repair shops, killing three and wounding 10.
The capital has seen near-daily bombings since the Mosul operation began, but no large-scale attacks. Militants frequently target security forces and the Shiite majority as part of its campaign to destabilize the country.