Iraqi troops begin assault deeper into Mosul neighborhoods

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi special forces began their assault into more urban neighborhoods of Mosul from its easternmost district on Friday, the military's latest push to drive Islamic State fighters from the city.

The advance began with artillery and mortar strikes on the Aden, Tahrir, and Quds districts, just west of special forces footholds in the Gogjali and Karama neighborhoods, Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi told The Associated Press.

The Islamic State group is fighting to hold Iraq's second city of Mosul as Iraqi forces and allied Kurdish troops squeeze in from all directions with U.S.-led coalition support, mostly with airstrikes and reconnaissance.

On Tuesday, Iraqi troops entered the city limits for the first time in more than two years, gearing up for urban warfare expected to take weeks, if not months.

More than 1 million civilians are stuck in the city, complicating the military's efforts to advance without harming innocents. IS militants have driven thousands of them deeper into the city's built-up areas, presumably for use as human shields, while hundreds others have fled in the past days toward government-controlled territory despite the uncertainty of resettlement in displacement camps.

Mosul is the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, and driving the militant group from the city would be a major blow to the survival of its self-declared "caliphate" that stretches into Syria. IS seized Mosul and other territory in 2014, routing the much larger Iraqi military, which had been neglected and demoralized by corruption.

   AP-WF-11-04-16 0441GMT