Iraqi forces launch new push in Mosul's west

Separately, The Associated Press reported that talks have begun with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to allow for a permanent US military presence in the country even after the Islamic State fighters are ousted from Mosul and other strongholds in the country.

Haider al-Abadi remarks came in a statement Friday morning following a report by The Associated Press that talks are ongoing between Iraq and the USA on maintaining American forces in Iraq.

Al-Abadi said that the American troops will be advisers who will help Iraq's security forces maintain "full readiness" for any future security challenges.

Iraq's armed forces opened a new front against Islamic State in Mosul on Thursday, advancing on the militants' enclave from the northwest, a military commander told Reuters. The numbers went down eventually to 40,000 before the complete withdrawal in 2011 under the Obama administration.

Continued clashes had been reported Saturday morning in some of these acclaimed liberated districts, with ISIS using at least one vehicle bomb, Rudaw's Sidad Lashkri who is embedded with Iraqi forces reported from Mosul. There currently are more than 7,000 troops there now.

In the western half, where an offensive began in late February, the 9th Armored Division - supported by US advisers, intelligence and precision strikes - swooped wide of the city to block the militants' main escape routes to Syria, recapturing the village of Badoush, before turning toward Mosul.

Since then, a highly publicized surge in civilian casualties, likely the result of increasing USA airstrikes coupled with ISIS's broadened use of human shields, has slowed the Iraqi momentum.

He added that the source could not confirm whether the Iraqi air force or the US-led coaltion was responsible for the raid.

There are now more than 6,000 American combat troops deployed in Iraq, but that number has been steadily increasing over the last few months - though it's unclear by how much.

The United States and Iraq now are in talks that would allow an as of yet unspecified number of USA troops to stay in Iraq after the presumed fall of ISIS.

"I imagine we'll be in this fight for a while and we'll stand by each other", Mattis said.

The mosque is a hugely symbolic prize as it is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a rare public appearance in July 2014 and declared the group's self-styled caliphate after IS seized nearly a third of Iraq.

That represents a contrast to the full USA withdrawal in 2011. In the battle to reclaim Mosul, the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF), the country's best troops, have taken heavy casualties in facing the brunt of the ISIS defense.

Iraqi army soldiers and pro-government fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units, commonly known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha'abi, have made sweeping gains against the Takfiri elements since launching the operation to retake Mosul.

  • Leroy Wright