Battle for Mosul
Iraqi security forces launch a rocket towards Islamic State militants during clashes at the frontline in Ali Rash village, southeast of Mosul, IraqREUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

UPDATE: The BBC is reporting that Iraqi government forces have battled their way into another suburb of Mosul, the northern city held for more two years by the Islamic State. Troops broke through IS defences and reached the eastern district of al-Zahra, which they say is now 90% under their control.

UPDATE:  The United Nations warned it believes the terror group is seizing boys as young as 9 to fight on its behalf. It has received reports ISIS has been instructing residents of Hammam al-Alil, about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of Mosul, to hand over boys nine and older since October 17, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said at press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

UPDATE:  The UN human rights office in Geneva says it has new reports from Iraq that the Islamic State group has been carrying out mass killings in Mosul amid a government-led offensive to retake the city from IS. Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says the rights office has received reports of an incident that happened on Monday when IS allegedly killed 50 of its own militants at the Ghazlani military base in Mosul "for alleged desertion."

Iraqi special forces recaptured six districts of eastern Mosul on Friday, a military statement said, expanding the army's foothold in the Islamic State stronghold a day after its leader told his jihadist followers there could be no retreat.

An officer in the elite Counter Terrorism Service said CTS troops had launched a major operation against the militants, who are now almost surrounded in their last major urban stronghold in Iraq.

CTS special forces took over the neighborhoods of Malayeen, Samah, Khadra, Karkukli, Quds and Karama, the statement said, inflicting heavy losses on the militant fighters and raising the Iraqi flag over buildings.

One special forces officer told Reuters on Thursday the CTS units may try to push all the way to the Tigris river, which runs through the center of Mosul.

Government troops struck ISIS positions early Friday morning, sending the militant group's ambulances rushing to the scene to extricate their wounded and dead.

A CNN team on the outskirts of Mosul heard loud clashes, bombing from air support and artillery fire. The team also witnessed Iraqi Humvees racing towards the neighborhoods in eastern Mosul.

Military radio chatter suggested that snipers on rooftops, along with militants firing from positions where civilians are present, were complicating the fight back.

As Iraqi special forces launched an assault deeper into the urban areas of the city, Islamic State militants fired back, striking and disabling an Abrams tank with a rocket.

IS hit the tank with a rocket fired from a nearby building, sending its crew fleeing from the smoking vehicle, seemingly unharmed. The fighting has been the most intense urban combat in Mosul since the Iraqi offensive began over two weeks ago to drive IS from the city, Iraq's second-largest.

An Iraqi special forces tank
A tank of Iraqi security forces is seen during a battle with Islamic State militants in southeast of Mosul, IraqREUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

The early morning advance began with artillery and mortar strikes on the Aden, Tahrir, and Quds districts, just west of special forces' footholds in the Gogjali and Karama neighborhoods, Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi told The Associated Press.

Both sides opened up with small arms and mortar fire after an artillery barrage by the special forces, ahead of their advance.

A bulldozer and another car later emerged from IS-held territory, presumably packed with explosives and preparing for suicide attacks.

The Islamic State group is fighting to hold Mosul as Iraqi forces and allied Kurdish troops squeeze in from all directions with US-led coalition support, mostly from airstrikes and reconnaissance.

Menawhile, the head of the Islamic State — who on Thursday denied the terror group was on the brink of losing control in the besieged northern Iraqi city of Mosul — has himself fled, Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson said on Friday.

The Foreign Secretary told the House of Commons that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's call for militants not to retreat when faced with Iraqi forces was "cruelly ironic" because intelligence suggested he had fled the city, the Daily Mail reported.

In an audio recording released on Thursday, al-Baghdadi said he was confident of victory in the de-facto capital Mosul and urged followers to continue fighting.

But Johnson, while responding to queries in the House of Commons, said: "It is a cruel irony that some of the intelligence we have, you may know, suggests that the gentleman in question has actually vacated the scene himself and is nonetheless using internet media to encourage people to take part in violence."

Battle for Mosul
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