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Feb 27, 7:27 AM EST

Iraqi commander says troops push deeper into western Mosul


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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi federal police units pushed deeper into western Mosul on Monday, gaining control of a neighborhood along the Tigris River and the foot of one of the city's five bridges amid intense clashes with Islamic State militants, a senior Iraqi police commander said.

According to Maj. Gen Thamir al-Hussaini, who commands the federal rapid response force, the troops pushed deeper into the western Gawsaq neighborhood earlier in the day and reached the bridge known locally as the 4th Bridge.

All of Mosul's bridges spanning the Tigris River and connecting the western part of the city, still held by the Islamic State group, with its eastern sector, were disabled by airstrikes last year.

Al-Hussaini told The Associated Press that IS militants were fighting back with snipers, anti-tank missiles and suicide car bombs, describing the clashes as "fierce." He added that Iraqi troops suffered casualties, but didn't give a specific number.

Later Monday from Gawsaq, Iraqi counterterrorism forces moved into the nearby Wadi Hajar neighborhood, he said.

Private broadcaster Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen aired live footage from Gawsaq, showing Iraqi troops in armored vehicles and Humvees pushing through dusty streets as gunfire rattled. Thick black smoke seen billowing from different areas following airstrikes.

The advances come after Iraqi forces last week took Mosul's international airport and a sprawling military base next to it before pushing into Mamun, the first neighborhood in the western half of the city after the airport.

Though incremental and only the beginning of what is expected to be a long and protracted battle for the rest of Mosul, the latest developments reflect the Iraqi military's determination to liberate the city, Iraq's second largest.

Western Mosul is the last significant urban area IS holds in Iraq.

Iraqi authorities declared the city's eastern half "fully liberated" from the Sunni militant group in January, three months after launching the operation to take back Mosul. The city fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

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This story has been corrected to show that the Iraqi general's family name is al-Hussaini, not Ahmed.

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