Iraqi fighter jets struck Isis positions in neighbouring Syria on Friday, in what officials said was retaliation for a spate of car bomb attacks in the capital Baghdad.
The air strikes coincided with Iraq’s ground forces pushing deeper into the western half of Mosul and reaching the first residential districts.
Iraq’s second city, a critical Isis stronghold split by the Tigris river, is divided between government forces holding the eastern bank of the city and Isis in command of the western side.
Losing control of Mosul would deal a definitive blow against the jihadi group’s ability to maintain control of its territory in Iraq.
The group now holds less than 10 per cent of the territory it captured when it swept through Iraq in 2014. But Isis is still able to strike with suicide bombings and sleeper cell attacks — a sign that is still has the capacity to destabilise what is a fragile country.
Isis continues to control large amounts of territory in Syria, where it has exploited the chaos from the civil war, now in its sixth year.
Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said he ordered the strikes “to chase terrorism that tries to kill our sons and citizens wherever it is found”.
“We gave orders to the air force command to strike Islamic State positions in Husaiba [inside Iraq] and Albu Kamal inside Syrian territory as they were responsible for recent bombings in Baghdad,” the prime minister said in a statement.
“Our heroes of the sky executed the operation to respond to the terrorists with great success.”
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s former premier, claimed the air force conducted a strike in 2014 before the US began the anti-Isis coalition air campaign. But rebels in Syrian territory near the strikes claimed the jets had only hit the Iraqi side of the border.
In Mosul on Friday, Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces solidified control of the strategic Ghozlani air base, a day after special forces recaptured the airport. Baghdad hopes to ultimately repair and use the airport as a base for the rest of its campaign in western Mosul, which is expected to take months.
Isis has been using remote-controlled drones to drop bombs in Mosul, as well as its weapon of choice: suicide car-bombers.
Some 750,000 people live in the western districts, whose older and poorer neighbourhoods are home to ancient buildings such as the Great Mosque of al-Nouri. Those monuments, coupled with the districts’ narrow, winding alleyways, will make it almost impossible to deploy tanks and heavy armoured vehicles.
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