IS blows up Mosul hotel as Iraq prepares to attack western bank of Tigris
The Islamic State (IS) group blew up a landmark hotel in western Mosul on Friday in an apparent attempt to prevent advancing Iraqi forces from using it as a base in their offensive to capture the city, witnesses said on Sunday.
The Mosul Hotel, shaped as a stepped pyramid, appeared to be leaning to one side after the explosions, two witnesses said by phone. They requested anonymity, saying the militants killed those they caught communicating with the outside world.
The Mosul Hotel stands close to the Tigris River, which divides the city. Iraqi forces appear about to take full control of the east and to be preparing to attack the western bank.
A US-led coalition is providing air and ground support to the Iraqi forces in their campaign to take back Mosul from the hardline Sunni group.
The Iraqi army said on Sunday that all districts of Mosul east of the Tigris had been cleared of IS militants except one, al-Rashidiya in the north.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and top commanders in the Counter-Terrorism Service, which has spearheaded operations inside Mosul, had already declared the city's east "liberated" on Wednesday.
The Joint Operations Command coordinating the battle against IS in Iraq had said then that a few more days would be needed to clear the last pockets of holdout militants.
Iraq's top brass and its foreign allies were expected to confer in the coming days on the strategy to conquer the west bank of Mosul, which is still under full IS control.
The west side of Mosul is a little smaller but more densely populated and home to some of the militants' traditional bastions.
It contains the old city of Mosul, a maze of narrow streets crammed with shops, mosques and churches that will be impassable for larger military vehicles.
The area houses Al-Nuri mosque, where the IS group's Iraq-born supremo, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate in June 2014 after his forces took the city.
State TV said the army had set up several bridges across the Tigris, south of Mosul, to facilitate the movement of troops in preparation for the offensive on the western side of the city.
Mosul's five bridges across the Tigris had already been partially damaged by US-led air strikes to slow the militants' movement, before IS blew up two of them.