Iraqi’s army has built a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris river south of Mosul, after flooding had blocked all crossing points, opening an escape route for families fleeing fighting between government forces and Islamic State. The city’s permanent bridges have been largely destroyed during a six-month military campaign to seize back Mosul from the Sunni Muslim Islamists, which overran it in 2014. “Everything is back to normal”, said a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Some 20,000 people have escaped from Mosul in the past four days, fewer than before due to the lack of transport, the UNHCR said in a report. Almost 330,000 people have fled Mosul since Iraq started an operation to expel Islamic State in October. They were some of the around 400,000 people still in western Mosul where military forces are trying to dislodge the militants from the Old City. Fighting continued in the Old City where heavy smoke could be seen from the area of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, from where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.
Residents have been streaming out of western neighbourhoods recaptured by the government, many desperately hungry and traumatized by living under ISIS’ harsh rule. As many as 600,000 civilians are still trapped with the militants inside Mosul, and thousands of residents have escaped to government lines in recent days but it has been impossible to tally the number of civilian casualties. The army and security forces have made significant gains in recent days in the battle that started back in October, seizing a main bridge over the Tigris River and advancing towards the mosque in the Old City from where ISIS’ leader declared a caliphate in 2014. But the fighting is expected to become even harder as the militants defend their last enclaves in what was once their stronghold in Iraq.
Iraqi forces began Tuesday the installation of a floating bridge that will help bring supplies from the east of Mosul to forces fighting Islamic State militants in the west. Abdul-Karim al-Sabaawi, a Brig. Gen. in the Iraqi army, said in press statements that the engineering teams had begun erecting the floating bridge that will link both sides of the Tigris River, which bisects the city. The bridges were partially destroyed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes during operations in eastern Mosul to hinder attempts by Islamic State fighters to escape to the west. Iraqi commanders said recently they were planning to erect a bridge across the river to allow military supplies into the west.