MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Two women suicide bombers, hiding among a group of fleeing civilians, targeted Iraqi troops in Mosul on Monday morning, killing one soldier and wounding several others, an Iraqi officer said.
It was the latest counter-attack by the Islamic State group as Iraqi forces close in on the last pocket of militant-held territory in the Old City neighborhood — the scene of the last stand by IS militants.
After days of fierce battles, the territory held by the militants in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, is rapidly shrinking, with IS now controlling just over 1 square kilometer in all, or about 0.40 square miles.
Using women as suicide bombers was apparently the latest tactic by the militants, Sgt. Ali Abdullah Hussein told The Associated Press.
"They appeared from the basement (of a building) and they blew themselves up," Hussein said as he returned from the scene, his troops carrying the body of their slain comrade wrapped in a blanket.
The attack happened in the area of the destroyed al-Nuri Mosque, which was the focus of the Iraqi forces' push last week. Over the past three days, Hussein said at least four such attacks have targeted Iraqi forces as hundreds of Mosul's civilians are fleeing the battles in the Old City's congested streets.
After the explosion on Monday, another group of civilians appeared on the main road, prompting the Iraqi soldiers to immediately draw their weapons. They then yelled to the group of mostly women and children to back away and take another route out.
IS overran Mosul in a matter of days more than three years ago. The U.S.-backed operation to retake the city was launched last October and has lasted nearly nine months, although Iraqi political and military officials had vowed that victory would be declared by the end of 2016.
Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake the Old City in mid-June and after a dawn push last Thursday, they retook the area around the al-Nuri Mosque, which the militants had blown up just a few days earlier.
The 12th century mosque is hugely symbolic — it was from a pulpit of this mosque that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the IS caliphate in July 2014.
After the Iraqi forces retook the landmark al-Nuri Mosque, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared an end to IS' so-called caliphate and pledged victory was "near."