Irbil, Iraq (CNN)Iraqi forces have taken control of several key government buildings and a bridge in western Mosul.
Among the buildings recaptured from ISIS on Monday were the Mosul Museum, the judicial government complex and the Nineveh police directorate building, Abdel Amir al-Mohamadi, Commander of the Rapid Response Forces of the Iraqi Federal Police, told CNN.
The supreme court, central bank and electricity and water authority headquarters were also retaken.It is the first time these buildings have been under Iraqi government control since 2014. Located in a strategic area, the recaptured buildings will provide better access to Mosul’s old city, which forces are seeking to recapture.
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“The Mosul museum is completely destroyed and leveled to the ground. ISIS militants have looted and destroyed the museum artifacts and have rigged explosives around the buildings and leveled it to the ground,” al-Mohamadi told CNN.
The offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, began in October 2016.
Divided into east and west by the Tigris river, the forces are now in the second phase, launched on February 19, to clear militants from the west, having liberated the east in January.Iraqi forces also captured the the Al-Huriya bridge on Monday, the second of five bridges across the Tigris to be seized from ISIS control, according to Iraqi federal police.
In February, the International Rescue Committee warned this part of the operation to retake Mosul could be the “most dangerous phase” for civilians as Iraqi troops seek to secure densely populated areas amid ISIS resistance. The number of civilians fleeing western Mosul in recent weeks has topped 57,000, an Iraqi official said Sunday.Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Iraq’s Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces arrived in Mosul Tuesday to inspect the ground forces that won back the government area on Monday, according to a statement from the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office.