MOSUL, Iraq Iraqi forces saw off a nighttime Islamic State counter-attack near Mosul’s main government building hours after recapturing it, a military official said on Wednesday, as troops sought to push the militants further back.
The Islamic State fighters had used several car bombs in the assault, Major General Ali Kadhem al-Lami of the Federal Police’s Fifth Division told a Reuters correspondent near the site.
“Today we’re clearing the area, which was liberated,” he said.
Military officials had said that troops from the Rapid Response, an elite interior ministry division, on Tuesday recaptured the provincial government headquarters, the central bank branch and the museum where three years ago the militants filmed themselves destroying priceless statues.
“The museum is completely empty of all artifacts. They were stolen possibly smuggled,” Lami said.
Reuters was not yet able to access the museum to verify.
Lami said most of the fighters that had fought around the governorate building were local but there were some foreigners.
“An order was issued for foreign fighters with families to withdraw with them. Those who do not have a family should stay and fight whether foreign or local,” he said.
Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led air power and military advisers, have fought since October in an intensive campaign to drive the ultra-hardline militants out of Mosul, Islamic State’s last major stronghold in the country.
They recaptured the eastern half of the city in January and launched assaults on the western side, across the Tigris river, on Feb. 19.
Islamic State fighters are retreating further into the west of the city, military officials say, but are putting up stiff resistance, hiding among the civilian population and deploying car bombs and snipers.
(Reporting by Isabel Coles, Writing by John Davison, Editing by Angus MacSwan)