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Iraqi forces raise flag over Mosul University

Residents fleeing Mosul said university had been largely destroyed by airstrikes and artillery fire

AP | PTI  |  Mosul 

Hundreds of civilians are now trapped on the front lines as Iraqi forces continue the operation to retake Mosul

Iraqi special forces raised the Iraqi flag above buildings within the University complex as they battled militants for control of the city, according to senior Iraqi officers and the coalition.

The troops entered the university grounds in the morning hours and by afternoon they had taken control of a neighbourhood on the northeastern edge of the university compound and the technical institute within the campus, according to special forces Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil and Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi.

By evening, Iraqi forces had also taken control of the Nineveh governorate and council buildings, according to a statement from the coalition.

"Work still needs to be done but ISIL's days in are quickly coming to an end," said US army Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the anti-IS coalition, using an alternative acronym for the group.

Al-Aridi, who was overseeing the assault today, said, "We broke through the terrorists' defenses and we destroyed their lines and their units and their bases."

The university is located in the eastern section of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city which is divided by the Tigris River into roughly an eastern and a western half.

Sgt. Saad Jabar said that over the past two years since IS seized in a 2014 blitz that captured much of northern and western Iraq, the militants have had time to prepare for an assault by Iraqi forces, building tunnels and getaways across the city, including on the university grounds.

"They had reinforced their positions and had plans. They knew where to come in and where to get out," Jabar said.

The push into University came a day after Iraqi army forces north of the city linked up with troops pushing in from the city's eastern edge. Iraqi forces have largely surrounded Mosul, but the most significant advances on the city have come from the eastern front and in the eastern half of the city. IS still controls Mosul's west.

The university, founded in the 1960s, was one of the top educational institutions in Iraq, drawing students from all over the country and reflecting the city's once diverse ethnic makeup. As the security situation in deteriorated following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, enrollments declined.

After the city fell to IS in the summer 2014, the sprawling complex was shuttered, most of the professors fled and the university was quickly converted into a base by the militants who used its medical and engineering departments.

Residents fleeing say the university had been largely destroyed by airstrikes and artillery fire.

The coalition said that since December 29, coalition planes have dropped at least 43 munitions on the university in a series of strikes targeting laboratories IS used to research chemical weapons, buildings used to build car bombs and other IS command and control points.

The coalition supporting the Iraqi forces offensive on told The Associated Press today that the group "warped the purpose of a beloved institution of higher learning when they used the university for military purposes.

First Published: Sat, January 14 2017. 03:53 IST