Inside the last battle for Mosul

Mosul liberation comes at a price
Mosul liberation comes at a price

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Mosul liberation comes at a price 03:03

Story highlights

  • The battle to reclaim Mosul from ISIS was still underway Monday morning
  • A small pocket of ISIS fighters remained, pinned against the Tigris River

Mosul, Iraq (CNN)In the ravaged heart of this once-vibrant city, a stone's throw from the Tigris River, Iraqi forces have cornered the last pocket of ISIS fighters.

It's 8 a.m. here Monday, and the Iraqi soldiers' day has just begun. But they already look exhausted.
    "I feel tired," says Major Salam Hussein of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS). "I am trying to finish this operation here after all these nine months. We hope we can finish things today. Right now the ISIS fighters they are coming to us, and they don't have the ability to fight anymore."
    Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) troops climb a mound of rubble.
    The battle to reclaim Mosul, ISIS' last major stronghold in Iraq, has been underway for nine months and everyone is tired. The landscape in Mosul's historic Old City looks apocalyptic. Cars lie twisted and flattened under pancaked buildings. Walls are riddled with bullet holes. And everything lies under a gray dusting of powdered concrete.
    Hussein's soldiers drag nine suspected ISIS fighters out of the rubble. One hobbles, leaning on the very men he was fighting just hours earlier.
    Another is a child. His baby face stands out among the bearded jihadists.
    An Iraqi soldier peers from a window amid a battle to rid Mosul of the last remnants of ISIS.
    "Where are you from?" a solider asks one of the handcuffed men.
    "I am from Mosul," the man replies. "They (ISIS) forced me to come to this neighborhood."
    He is taken away with the other suspects, their fate unknown. Human rights groups have accused Iraqi security forces of summarily executing ISIS prisoners during their campaign to retake Iraq's second-largest city.
    Soon after, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will announce victory Monday over ISIS forces in the city.
    But the fighting here is not over.
    Major Salam Hussein of CTS, center, with a tablet that provides a live surveillance feed.
    From a rooftop adjacent to the minaret of a nearby mosque, you can see the last pocket of ISIS's resistance -- pinned with their backs against the river, some 50 meters away.
    "Mosul is among the most complicated battles, particularly the fight for Old Mosul, as a result of its geographic nature," says Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of Iraq's CTS, referring to its warren of narrow streets and alleyways.
    Major Hussein shouts coordinates to his coalition partners, led by the United States. They respond with an airstrike so close and intense that the blast throws rubble into the faces of the fighters.
    Mounds of rubble near a destroyed mosque just 50 meters from the Tigris River.
    A CTS sniper engages with an ISIS gunman on a nearby roof. Fighters on the ground call on the extremists to surrender.
    It is a hive of activity, with lingering gunfire and explosions. There is immense pressure on these few dozen Iraqi fighters to finish their operation today.
    Still, the CTS troops are wary of celebrating victory too soon. They say another unit in the Old City reached the river on Sunday, but as they danced in the streets an ISIS sniper opened fire and killed a soldier.