ISIS downs Iraqi helicopter west of Mosul

Mosul has been under the IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.

The helicopter was hit while supporting Iraq's mostly Shiite militia forces in an operation to retake villages still held by the militants in the sprawling desert to Mosul's west, Brig. But Iraqi forces are now fighting ISIS in the same district the militant group infiltrated three years ago Although ISIS renamed the district Fatah, Iraqi security forces have begun to enter the 17th Tammouz neighborhood in Western Mosul.

Conditions in the shrinking area under militant control are increasingly desperate as civilians resort to eating weeds and many are killed under heavy bombardment.

Inside Mosul Iraqi forces backed by the USA -led coalition are slowly closing in on a small cluster of neighborhoods in the city's west held by the extremist group.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR this week opened a new camp in northern Iraq to shelter the increasing number of Iraqi families fleeing the fighting in western Mosul, UNHCR said on Friday.

Yar Allah says the forces "have broken through the enemy fortifications" without giving more details. "God willing, this is the final phase", General Rasoul said.

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He was speaking on a visit to the frontlines in western Mosul.

"The more they are besieged the harder they fight".

Colonel Mohammed al-Taie of the Operation Command in the surrounding Nineveh province said Iraqi forces were advancing rapidly north of Mosul.

Flies swarmed over the charred remains of an Islamic State militant lying near a motorbike on a street in the district. In the garage of a house on the same street was an armor-plated auto rigged with a suicide bomb. Reports trickling out of Mosul in January suggest that it may have stopped paying the salaries of its fighters altogether, sapping morale and triggering desertions.

According to UNHCR, the risk to people fleeing Mosul is "very great".

"Our intelligence conclusions based on insider sources and drone surveillance indicate undisputedly that Daesh fighters are less organized now and lack the resources to keep fighting", he said.

  • Sonia Alvarado