BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces trying to reclaim Mosul penetrated the western part of the city on Tuesday, retaking a bridge and several public buildings during heavy clashes with the Islamic State, officials said.
Civilians reported that the bombardment and gunfire were the heaviest since Feb. 19, the beginning of the operation to retake the western part of the city — the country’s second-largest, where roughly a million people are trapped and living in desperate conditions.
Soldiers recaptured a branch of the central bank, an archaeological museum that jihadists ransacked after taking the city in 2014, and the Hurriya Bridge, which crosses the Tigris in the center of the city, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a military spokesman, said by phone.
“We will never stop until we liberate Mosul entirely,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, the chief of the federal police, said that security forces had retaken a branch of the central bank; the archaeological museum; and a government compound.
Islamic State militants used sledgehammers and drills to smash artifacts at the museum, in the belief that the sculptures, statues and reliefs were symbols of idolatry. The destruction of the antiquities horrified scholars around the world.
Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir al-Muhammadawi, a spokesman for an elite unit commanded by the Interior Ministry, said that the buildings retaken from the Islamic State included a courthouse where militants had carried out sentences including whippings, stonings and beheadings, and a building from which militants had thrown people to their deaths.
“The liberation of the government compound is a step forward for our forces, a vital motivating position for us,” General Muhammadawi said in an interview. “The international coalition’s airstrikes and drones have played a major role in accelerating the liberation of the city.”
It was too early to say, however, if the gains would last. Although soldiers raised the Iraqi flag over the government compound, in the Dawasa neighborhood, they were later forced to retreat under heavy fire from Islamic State militants, The Associated Press reported.
In addition, the museum was in range of sniper fire, making it vulnerable to a counterattack.
Social media accounts associated with the Islamic State reported that militants had set off three suicide bombs during the offensive.
Despite the tenuous nature of the military advance, government forces touted the gains as a critical moment in their weekslong offensive to retake western Mosul.
The battle, which included recapturing most of the city’s airport, has not been easy. It took Iraqi forces more than three months to gain control over eastern Mosul, and casualties were heavy.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the chief of staff of the country’s armed forces toured eastern Mosul on Tuesday to “review the progress of security forces,” according to a statement.
The Hurriya, or Freedom, Bridge is the second of five bridges to be retaken by government forces. American-led airstrikes disabled all five bridges last year in a bid to isolate the militants.
Mosul fell to the Islamic State in June 2014, along with large parts of the country’s north and west. It is the largest Iraqi population center still under control of the militant group.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Tuesday that about 46,000 people in Mosul had been displaced since Feb. 19 — including 13,350 on Friday alone — in the highest continuous displacement of civilians since October.
“All people displaced from western Mosul have been accommodated either with family members or in camps or emergency sites, where they receive a tented plot, basic household supplies, hygiene kits, and 30-day food rations,” the United Nations office said. Camp construction and the installation of water and sanitation services are underway south of Mosul, it added.
Since Feb. 19, the office said, more than 500 people have been treated for conflict-related wounds, including 15 people who were hospitalized in Erbil, a Kurdish-held city east of Mosul, for treatment after an apparent chemical-weapon attack.
Many in eastern Mosul lack drinking water, officials have warned, and many in the southern and western parts of the city are drinking untreated water, which could lead to the spread of diseases.