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Iraqi forces take landmark Mosul mosque blown up by IS

A bomb explodes behind the al-Nuri mosque complex, as seen through a hole in the wall of a house, as Iraqi Special Forces move toward Islamic State militant positions in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on Thursday. Picture by Felipe Dana, Associated Press

An Iraqi commander said his forces have taken Mosul's landmark al-Nuri Mosque compound that was destroyed by the Islamic State group last week.

Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi said special forces entered the compound and took control of the surrounding streets on Thursday afternoon, following a dawn push into the area.

Earlier, special forces Major General Sami al-Aridi warned the site will need to be cleared by engineering teams as IS fighters likely rigged it with explosives.

Iraqi forces are pushing through the last IS-held neighbourhood in Mosul, the so-called Old City, to the west of the Tigris River.

The mosque is hugely symbolic - from its pulpit, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014 declared a self-styled "caliphate" on IS-held territories in Syria and Iraq.

Damaged and destroyed houses dot the route Iraqi forces have carved into the congested district – along a landscape of destruction where the stench of rotting bodies rises from under the rubble.

Iraqi and coalition officials said IS blew up the mosque complex last week.

IS has blamed a US air strike for the destruction.

After months of fighting, the IS hold in Mosul has shrunk to less than two square kilometres (0.8 square miles) of territory but the advances have come at considerable cost.

"There are hundreds of bodies under the rubble," said special forces Major Dhia Thamir, deployed inside the Old City.

He added that all the dead bodies along the special forces' route were of IS fighters.

Mr al-Aridi acknowledged that some civilians have been killed by air strikes and artillery in the fight for the Old City.

"Of course there is collateral damage, it is always this way in war," he said.

"The houses are very old," he said, referring to the Old City, "so any bombardment causes them to collapse completely."

In Baghdad, state TV declared the capture of the al-Nuri Mosque with an urgent text scroll that said: "The State of Myth Has Fallen."

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