BAZWAYA, Iraq — Iraqi special forces advanced on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul from the east on Monday, taking heavy fire but entering the last village before the city limits and clearing a path that was followed by army units.
Armored vehicles, including Abrams tanks, drew mortar and small arms fire as they moved on the village of Bazwaya in the dawn assault, while allied artillery and airstrikes hit IS positions.
Car bombers are trying to stop the advance, but the troops, just 2 miles (3 kilometers) from Mosul's eastern outskirts, aim to enter it later in the day, said Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil. The army said another unit, its ninth division, had moved up toward Mosul and was now approximately three miles from its eastern outskirts.
At one point, a Humvee packed with explosives raced ahead in an attempt to ram the forces, but Iraqi troops opened fire on it, setting off the charge and blowing up the vehicle. Plumes of smoke rose in the air from IS positions hit by artillery and airstrikes.
State television described the operation as a "battle of honor" to liberate the city, captured by IS from a superior yet neglected Iraqi force in 2014.
Some residents hung white flags on buildings and from windows in a sign they would not resist the government troops, said Maj. Salam al-Obeidi, a member of the special forces operation in Bazwaya. He said troops were requesting residents stay inside their homes as troops travelled on the streets, guarding against potential suicide bombers.
For two weeks, Iraqi forces and their Kurdish allies, Sunni tribesmen and Shiite militias have been converging on Mosul from all directions to drive IS from Iraq's second largest city. The operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.
Since the offensive began on Oct. 17, Iraqi forces moving toward the city have made uneven progress. Advances have been slower in the south, with government forces there still 20 miles (35 kilometers) from the city.
The U.S. military estimates IS has 3,000 to 5,000 fighters inside Mosul and another 1,500-2,500 in the city's outer defensive belt. The total number includes around 1,000 foreign fighters.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on his website Monday that he would be visiting troops near the frontline.
A day earlier, thousands of fighters flocked to join Iraq's state-sanctioned, Iran-backed Shiite militias who aim to cut off Mosul from the west. In a series of apparent retaliation attacks, bombers on Sunday struck in five of Baghdad's mostly Shiite neighborhoods, killing at least 17 people.
The deadliest of the explosions, a parked car bomb, hit a popular fruit and vegetable market near a school in the northwestern Hurriyah area, killing at least 10 and wounding 34. On Monday, IS issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef contributed reporting from Cairo.