BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops encountered the heaviest clashes yet with Islamic State group fighters Sunday in western Mosul since the start of the new push more than two weeks ago, according to a senior commander.
Maj. Gen. Haider al-Maturi of the Federal Police Commandos Division told The Associated Press that IS militants dispatched at least six suicide car bombs, which were all destroyed before reaching the troops. The militants, he said, are moving from house to house and deploying snipers.
The wave of heavy resistance comes as Iraqi forces launched attacks against IS-held neighbourhoods in western Mosul from three points Sunday morning. The Federal Police are closing in on the city's main government complex in the Dawasa neighbourhood and Iraq's special forces are attempting to push into the Shuhada and Mansour neighbourhoods .
IS fighters have "some mortar (teams) and snipers positioned inside homes," said Iraqi special forces Maj. Ali Talib, explaining that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have helped destroy some of the IS defences , but clashes are still ongoing.
Al-Maturi, of the federal police, said his troops are now some 500 metres away from the government complex.
Also on Sunday, The Hague, Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement the organization was "seriously concerned" about reports of chemical weapons use in Mosul.
"The OPCW has asked Iraqi authorities for more information and has offered its assistance to the Iraqi investigation," the statement said.
The alleged attack occurred last week in eastern Mosul, an area declared fully liberated by Iraqi forces in January. The attack hit a neighbourhood along the Tigris River, which roughly divides the city in two. Hospital officials said 10 patients were admitted for exposure and would be discharged in the coming days.
The United Nations warned that the alleged use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, would be a war crime and a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
The push on Mosul's west was launched about two weeks ago after the eastern half of the city was declared "fully liberated" in January. The operation to retake Mosul officially began in October after more than two years of slowly clawing back territory from IS militants. IS overran nearly a third of Iraq — including Mosul the country's second largest city — in the summer of 2014.
Qassim Abdul-Zahra, The Associated Press