Iraqi forces on Monday were searching neighborhoods of west Mosul they retook weeks ago after a surprise ISIL attack on their rear that left several dead, officials said.
The attack, which was claimed by ISIL terrorist group, sowed panic among residents who returned to live in the Tanak and Yarmuk neighborhoods of west Mosul.
A top commander in the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), which sent forces to fight the ISIL gunmen, said the attackers had infiltrated the area by blending in with returning displaced civilians.
“The group came with the displaced and settled in the Tanak district. They regrouped and launched counter-attacks,” Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi told AFP.
“Yarmuk is being searched house to house,” he said, adding that two groups of ISIL attackers were still believed to be in the area, which lies on the western edge of the city.
A CTS medic said the attack had caused several victims but he could not say how many.
“There are martyrs who were killed by ISIL,” the medic said.
He said 15 to 20 terrorist fighters were also killed in the battle.
Iraqi forces, led by the CTS, have for a week been pressing a perilous assault into the Old City in central Mosul, the last pocket still controlled by the terrorists.
Federal forces backed a US-led coalition launched an offensive to retake the country’s second city from ISIL more than eight months ago.
The east bank of Mosul, a city divided by the Tigris River, was retaken in January and a push to wrest back the western side was launched in mid-February.
More than 800,000 people have been displaced from the Mosul area since October last year and the security forces are struggling to carry out effective screening.
While the exact circumstances were unclear, Sunday night’s attack was described as a diversionary tactic by west Mosul “sleeper cells” to ease the pressure on the Old City, where the terrorists appear to be on their last legs.
“The sleeper cells carried out a surprise attack against the security forces, in an attempt to ease the siege on the Old City,” a local official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Operations to flush out pockets controlled by ISIL are ongoing,” he said.
Hundreds of families, who in some cases had returned to their homes weeks ago, fled the area again overnight, fearing the return of terrorist rule.