Iraqi forces zero in on IS-held citadel of Tal Afar
Iraqi forces and pro-government paramilitary units confirmed their sights are on the militant-held citadel in the centre of Tal Afar on Friday, after recapturing several districts from the Islamic State group.
"The Iraqi flag has been hoisted in al-Nasr district," an eastern neighbourhood of the city, the Joint Operations Centre said in a statement.
"The troops are now at the entrance to the district of the citadel," which dates back to the period of Ottoman rule, the JOC said.
It said Counter-Terrorism Service special forces had also retaken al-Taliaa district to the south and were tasked with expelling IS from the citadel, the last current target of the CTS in Tal Afar.
On the sixth day of an offensive to recapture the city launched between the CTS, Hashd al-Shaabi fighters and the federal police force, police confirmed they seized the Saad district and were moving into al-Qadissiyah, the JOC said.
After routing the militants from Iraq's second city Mosul in July following a gruelling nine-month-long battle, Iraqi forces launched an assault on Tal Afar, where an estimated 1,000 jihadists are holed up.
The former Shia enclave, which saw much of its population murdered by militants who captured the town in 2014, was once an important supply route for IS and remains one of the group's last strongholds in Iraq.
IS militants are attempting to hold back the pro-government force with booby-trapped improvised vehicles, snipers and road blocks.
Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration said "thousands of civilians" had fled Tal Afar since the offensive began.
But around 30,000 civilians are trapped by the fighting, according to the United Nations.
IS has in the past used civilians as human shields, and fears are growing this will be seen again in Tal Afar. IS has also carried out insurgent revenge attacks in territory it has lost.
Yet those who leave still face grave danger and complications, in almost unbearable conditions.
"On one hand, there is the risk of being shot by extremist groups for attempting to flee, sniper fire from the extremist elements and the risk of the victim-activated anti-personnel mines,” UNHCR spokesperson Rula Amin told The New Arab.