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Dec 7, 9:16 AM EST

Iraqi special forces capture new land in eastern Mosul


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MOSUL, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq special forces captured a new neighborhood Wednesday from the Islamic State group in eastern Mosul, according to a senior commander - the latest gain in a massive military operation now its seventh week.

The commander of a joint operations center that oversees the Mosul campaign, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah, said in a statement that troops had "fully liberated" the al-Elam neighborhood and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings. Yarellah added that IS militants "suffered losses" without elaborating.

The announcement came hours after an overnight attack carried out by IS militants against Iraqi security forces in the southeastern part of Mosul, a day after troops advanced deeper into that part of the city, an army officer said.

The attack "inflicted heavy losses," Iraqi Army Sgt. Maj. Hakim Saranbii told The Associated Press, without giving specific casualty figures or further details. Iraqi Defense Ministry officials in Baghdad did not immediately comment.

On Tuesday, Army troops rolled into the southeastern neighborhood of al-Salam, taking a hospital before meeting stiff resistance from IS militants. Convoys of dozens of armored Iraqi special forces and army Humvees could be seen moving into the southeastern neighborhood Wednesday morning.

"What we see here is the enemy reacting to a new axis of advance," said coalition spokesman U.S. Army, Col. John Dorrian, explaining that the new push is putting increased pressure on IS.

After the advance on Tuesday, Iraqi forces said that they pushed the front line back more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and retook Mosul's al-Salam hospital, but only a few hundred meters (yards) appeared to be secured and clashes continued into the evening.

When Iraqi forces initially launched a push into eastern Mosul in early November, troops advanced rapidly at first but soon came under heavy counterattacks. Islamic State militants have depended on suicide car bombs, sniper fire and a network of underground tunnels to slow the security forces.

The Iraqi government has not publicized the casualty figures for government troops and paramilitary forces fighting in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq. Last week, the U.N. said in a report that nearly 2,000 members of the Iraqi forces were killed last month, but after coming under fire from the media arm of the Iraqi military, it announced it would discontinue publishing casualty figures for Iraq's security forces.

Backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, Iraqi government troops and paramilitary forces launched the campaign in October to dislodge IS from Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and the last major IS urban bastion in the country.

Elsewhere, a wave of bombing attacks hit commercial areas in and around the capital, Baghdad, on Wednesday, killing at least 17 civilians and wounding 57, police and health officials said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but they bore all the hallmarks of the Islamic State group, which has staged dozens of similar attacks in the past.

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Associated Press writers Murtada Faraj and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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