The reclusive leader of the Islamic State group broke a almost year-long silence as Iraqi forces closed in on Mosul today, urging his jihadists to hold their ground.It was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's first statement since Iraqi forces launched a massive offensive on October 17 to retake Mosul, where the IS chief declared the group's "caliphate" two years ago.
Government forces, aided by a US-led coalition, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shia paramilitaries are carrying out a major offensive on Mosul, Islamic State's last bastion in Iraq and its formerly proclaimed capital.
Daesh has been on the retreat since past year in both Iraq and Syria, in the face of a myriad of different forces seeking to crush the ultra-hardline group.
From the Mosul neighborhood of Gogjali, which is inside city limits but just outside more urban districts, the guns have gone largely silent, although sporadic rifle cracks could be heard as well as some army artillery fire on IS positions.
The group said thousands of civilians have already fled the city, and many have already been killed by snipers and explosives. Special forces units sweeping in from the east have made fastest progress.
At a Tuesday press conference in the Makhmour district southeast of Mosul, ministry spokesman Brigadier-General Saad Maan said joint security forces deployed along the campaign's southern axis had killed 778 Daesh militants since the operation began.
The US-led coalition estimates there are 3,000 to 5,000 IS fighters inside the city but the final outcome of the battle appears to be in little doubt.
Later, al-Aridi said the troops had taken the nearby state television building, the only one in the province, and that heavy fighting broke out when they tried to continue further in to built-up areas. Residents reported that IS militants were rounding up thousands of people as human shields or killing those with suspected links to the security forces.
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That could mean house-to-house combat and might take weeks, if not months, with the city center about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.
Hours after al-Baghdadi's call, an explosives-laden vehicle sped out of an IS-controlled area toward Iraqi forces, who fired a rocket that blew up the auto, killing the attacker.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz says the US -led anti-IS coalition has "put these terrorists on a path to lasting defeat".
A CNN team on the ground saw hundreds of civilians fleeing on foot from the direction of Mosul and the village of Gogjali on the outskirts, risking ISIS' booby traps and gunfire to get themselves and their families out.
Special forces went house to house in Gogjali throughout the day, while sappers searched the road for any explosives left behind by the jihadis. Men in the area celebrated by shaving the beards they were forced to grow under IS rule. "The lives of 1.2 million civilians are in grave danger, and the future of all of Iraq is now in the balance", the Norwegian Refugee Council's Iraq director, Mr Wolfgang Gressmann, said in a statement.
Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to the Kurdish president, said the speed of the fall of Mosul would depend on many factors especially whether or not the Islamic State "is going to destroy the five bridges over the river".
'We can see Daesh (Islamic State) fighters firing towards the Iraqi forces and moving in cars between the alleys of the neighbourhood.