Heavy fighting continues in the cramped streets of Old Mosul even though the Iraqi flag flies over virtually every neighborhood after an epic urban battle not seen since World War II.

The elite Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) troops captured the ruins and remaining fighting positions around the al-Nuri Mosque that ISIS terrorists detonated with a truck bomb on June 21, according to Ali Sada, editor of the Daesh Daily, a war digest of all conflict news in Iraq.

The Iraqi Federal Police (IFP), a combat unit that has taken a lead role in the Mosul battle alongside the CTS, is advancing in Old Mosul from three directions under air cover from drones and army helicopters, according to Iraqi media. The IFP spokesman reported its forces killing in the last two days 82 combatants, 2 snipers, and destroying 5 guesthouses, 7 explosives belts, 1 vehicle bomb, 34 IEDs, and 2 cannons.

The CTS forces killed 62 Daesh combatants in the Grand Mosque operation, and tens of others are hiding in houses on the west bank of the Tigris River, according to Iraqi Army Intelligence sources Thursday. Sada reported the same. Iraqi army sources reported Thursday that overall, ISIS lost 600 combatants in the battle for the Grand Mosque. Dozens of terrorists are believed to be hiding in surrounding buildings and are firing at fleeing civilians.

“Only IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and traps remained in the Grand Mosque after CTS killed all resisting Daesh combatants” the CTS commander told Iraqi media Thursday. He went on to say that bomb defusing technicians are on the scene to remove these explosives.

“When they blew up this mosque with its ancient minaret, they were conceding defeat. They were saying to the world, ‘It’s over,” Sada told Providence Friday.

The mosque was reportedly packed with explosives and a bomb-laden truck on Wednesday when combat units of the CTF approached to within 50 meters of it, just before the explosion, government sources reported.

“Every time Daesh [a slang term for ISIS] does a sickening thing like blowing up an ancient mosque, it is always for the sake of media,” Sada said. “It may also indicate that the claim of Russian media that ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr Awad Al-Baghdadi was killed in an airstrike last week, because the decision to detonate the truck bomb was made by a local terrorist. There was no indication that it was ordered by a higher command,” Sada added.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday that the willful destruction of the iconic al-Nuri Mosque and its signature al-Hadba minaret “is the symbol of the fall of the fake caliphate announced in Syria and Iraq three years ago.”

Although the Prime Minister says the end of ISIS near, the Iraqi Army and IFP do not have full control of 40 percent of Old Mosul. Terrorists are still holed up in hospitals that they have used as command headquarters as well as prisons. These include the 13-story Republican Hospital, where ISIS fighters are hiding in the two underground stories and the Ibn Sina hospital in Old Mosul, where some of the major ISIS leaders are hiding and keeping civilians as hostages.

More than 204 civilians were killed in crossfires in West Mosul during the past week, according to a medical worker speaking to Iraqi media Thursday and reported by Sada in Daesh Daily. These casualties were escapees only and does not include those killed in their houses.

“Thousands of children continue to be trapped in relentless violence in West Mosul’s Old City neighborhoods as the fighting heavily intensified over the past hours,” according to Peter Hawkins, head of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Iraq (UNICEF).

“Children are facing multiple threats to their lives. Those stranded in the fighting are hiding in their basements, fearful of the next onslaught. Those who try to flee risk being shot or wounded. Hundreds of civilians have already been reported killed and used as human shields,” according to a statement attributed to Hawkins

“I was not surprised that ISIS destroyed the historic mosque,” says Dr. Tom Renahan, the associate editor of Daesh Daily and author of the newly released book The Struggle for Iraq: From the Ground Up.

“When the jihadists aren’t winning anything, they do something noteworthy to show they have power. They are not seeking to influence the general public or win it over. They are pitching their story to psychopaths and blind followers,” Renahan said. “Daesh always shows it is winning, even when it is losing,” He added.

Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official in Kirkuk, Iraq and writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C. Queries to [email protected].

Photo Credit: Iraqi security forces members guard a patrol base in Mosul, Iraq, June 19, 2017. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Rachel Diehm.

For Western Christians, the ongoing battle for Mosul is of interest not only because the Islamic State has conducted a series of attacks in the West but also because Christian communities have historically lived in the region around Mosul. The following articles on this topic may be of interest:

Will Christianity Survive in the Middle East? A Christian Perspective, by Kent R. Hill

Travels to Queregosh: Christians Return to the Nineveh Plains after Islamic State Leaves, by Charmaine Hedding

The Urgent Need for Appropriate “Safe Zones” in Iraq, by Baroness Caroline Cox and Ewelina U. Ochab

The Battle for Mosul and the End of History, by Douglas Burton

A People of No Strategic Importance: Middle East Christians & the Disregard of the Foreign Policy Elite, by Faith McDonnell

A Human Picture of Assyria—Providence Event: Islam, the Middle East, and Christian Engagement with the Middle East, featuring Juliana Taimoorazy