Iraqi soldiers are in control of the road linking west Mosul with the Islamic State group-held town of Tal Afar, isolating jihadists in the city, a senior commander said on Wednesday.
"We control the road by fire," said Staff Lieutenant General Qassem al-Maliki, the commander of Iraq's 9th Armoured Division.
Maliki said that while his soldiers have not reached the road, they can fire on targets on it, putting it under their effective control.
A team of US soldiers has been working with the 9th Division for nearly two months, including during their push through the desert to the Mosul-Tal Afar road.
Iraqi forces are battling inside west Mosul to retake it from IS in a major push launched on 19 February, but have also moved through the surrounding desert to cut the area off from Tal Afar and increase pressure on the jihadists.
Earlier on Wednesday, Maj. Gen Thamir al-Hussaini, of Iraq's elite rapid response units, said his troops were advancing along the Tigris River after retaking one of the city's five damaged bridges.
He said the capture of the bridge could shorten supply lines and allow civilians in western Mosul, where heavy fighting is underway, to flee to the government-controlled eastern half of the city.
|[Click to enlarge]|
"In the coming day we will clear the government buildings," he told reporters in Abu Saif, a village outside Mosul.
Tens of thousands of people have fled since the beginning of the operation to recapture west Mosul.
Field teams received "26,000 displaced people from (west) Mosul during the past 10 days", Jassem Mohammed al-Jaff, the minister of displacement and migration, said in a statement.
The number who have fled is only a small fraction of the 750,000 people who are believed to have stayed on in west Mosul under IS rule but is expected to rise sharply in the coming days and weeks.
IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other support have since regained most of the territory they lost.The operation to retake Mosul - the last IS-held city in the country - was launched on 17 October.