It has been 20 days since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the third stage of the Mosul offensive. Iraqi forces have since recaptured more than 25 percent of Mosul's western side, drawing on the knowledge and experience they gained during the fight for the eastern part of the city. On March 9, after visiting frontline troops, al-Abadi said that Mosul would be completely under government control within the month.
Iraqi forces have completely encircled the city, cutting Islamic State fighters off from escape routes and supply lines. In the Tab al-Bob neighborhood, Iraqi federal police, with help from U.S. and Iraqi air support, have recaptured a government complex and the municipal museum — two of the last Islamic State holdouts in western Mosul. The complex is located in a favorable position, and it previously served as a headquarters for the Islamic State. The breakthrough came after Iraqi forces reclaimed the western side of two key bridges, enabling them to construct a temporary bridge that will considerably ease the movement of supplies and reinforcement.
Islamic State forces have now moved north, while Iraqi troops have advanced to the outskirts of Mosul's Old City, a densely populated area with narrow streets and historical buildings. Since the Islamic State was not cleared out of the area but rather pulled out, it could have left behind sleeper cells. Iraqi forces are proceeding with caution in light of that possibility. Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is rumored to have escaped Mosul and sought refuge somewhere in the western Iraqi desert. North of the city, meanwhile, the Iraqi army's Ninth Division, backed by counterterrorism forces, has taken over Badush prison. The Islamic State took over the prison, one of the largest in northern Iraq, in 2014 and converted the building into a key military base after executing most of the prisoners there.
According to one government commander, Iraqi forces will turn their attention to retaking Hawija once the Mosul mission wraps up. Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters could play a larger part in that battle. So far more than 290,000 people have fled the city of Mosul to camps for internally displaced persons, and more people will be displaced once fighting begins in the Old City. Iraqi forces have tried to keep some routes open to accommodate fleeing civilians, but differentiating between civilians and Islamic State fighters trying to escape can be difficult.