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Iraqi Forces Continue To Battle Remaining ISIS Fighters In Mosul

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The offensive to retake Mosul may be in its final days. But Iraqi forces still do not have full control of the city. Several hundred ISIS fighters remain cornered in a few districts in the Old City. That means house-to-house combat and clearing is underway. We're joined by NPR correspondent Jane Arraf. She's in Erbil, Iraq, which is about 50 miles from Mosul.

Good morning, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So this has been a long battle for Mosul, eight months and counting. Update us on where the fighting stands.

ARRAF: So it is actually now in the last stages. And there have been a lot of last stages. But this one, they are literally what they say is the last half a square mile surrounding the old mosque where the leader of ISIS declared his Islamic state. Now, it is the last days - expected to be. But it's some of the toughest.

This is an area where ISIS has literally nowhere to go. So they are fighting to the death. On top of that, there are several Iraqi forces that have to coordinate this. And there's not a lot of U.S. air support because it is very close quarters. There are a lot of civilians and a lot of dangers there.

KELLY: OK, I want to ask about people living in the city and actually let you react to something that we've heard from the U.S. military. Major General Joseph Martin, who commands the coalition forces fighting in Mosul, came on the show yesterday. And he told us that people are starting to flow back into Mosul, even as some civilians are still trying to flee. Let me play you what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JOSEPH MARTIN: I'm amazed at the progress in terms of re-establishing essential services, markets standing up. We're seeing asphalt being repaired. And the numbers of vehicles - cabs, trucks, buses, commodities and people are flowing into Mosul, not out of Mosul.

KELLY: So that's the view from a U.S. military commander. Jane, does that square with your impression of what's happening?

ARRAF: Gosh, that's not really a picture of Mosul that most Iraqis would recognize. True, there are people going back. And true, that resiliency is an amazing trait in Iraq. But a lot of that is because they don't have any other choice. Let's step back just a bit and remember that Mosul is the third-biggest city in Iraq. There have been almost all of those people displaced. And they've had nowhere to go, to a large extent.

So if they're going back - and many of them are going back to see what happened to their homes - it's because there's no other option. Now, at the same time that they are repairing some of the roads, the bridges are still out to a major extent. The university has been destroyed. The train station has been heavily damaged.

KELLY: That mosque you mentioned is in ruins now, yeah.

ARRAF: That is totally in ruins. And that's incredibly symbolic. So U.N. officials estimate that it will take billions of dollars and perhaps years to repair this. And they also say this is some of the worst damage that they've seen. So not exactly the rosy picture that was painted by the general.

KELLY: OK, meanwhile, what does all of this mean for ISIS? You mentioned they are holed up. They're fighting to the death. Mosul is the big stronghold of ISIS in Iraq. But when Mosul is finally, we assume, back in government control, what does that mean for the state of ISIS in Iraq?

ARRAF: So I think we tend to think of ISIS as this abstract entity of foreign fighters. But part of the reason that ISIS was able to come in and take over entire cities in the same way that al-Qaida was able to come in when American forces were fighting them is there are really deep divisions in Iraq. And those divisions have widened since 2003.

So while ISIS fighters will be largely gone from Mosul - although not entirely - essentially, it leaves a country that is deeply divided in all sorts of ways. And what the government is trying to do is both reconstruction and reconciliation. And those two things are both incredibly difficult.

KELLY: That's NPR's Jane Arraf reporting from Iraq on this final stage, we think, in the battle for Mosul. Jane, thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.