Iraqi forces recapture western Mosulís al-Rifaie district, a major IS bastion

Iraqi government forces recaptured on Wednesday al-Rifaie district, a major area held by the Islamic State where intense battles have been running to retake the region.

The Defense Ministryís War Media Cell said the armyís elite Counter-Terrorism Service took over the district completely and raised the Iraqi flags above its buildings.

Al-Rifaie is one of a handful of northwestern Mosul neighborhoods which Iraqi forces have been sweeping through over the past two weeks on its way to invade the strategic Old City, the most significant IS-held target where the group first declared the establishment of its rule in 2014.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said it controls 89.5 percent of western Mosul territory and that more than 16000 militants were killed since operations launched to liberate Mosul in October.

Some generals were quoted saying they predict the city to be free before the end of ths month.

In a relevant context, Maj. Gen. Najm al-Jubouri, a senior commander of the JOCís Nineveh Operations, said Iraqi forces had started erecting bridges to facilitate the movement of civilians from the western region to the eastern side which government troops recaptured in January.

Five bridges linking the cityís two sides above the Tigris River were destroyed by fighter jets ahead of launching the western Mosul offensive in February as part of a plan to prevent IS members from running from the east to the west.

ďSecurity troops are about to set up bridges linking Hawi al-Kanisah (northwest) with the east,Ē Jubouri said, adding that the step aims to speed up the movement of civilians.