The elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) used bulldozers to smash through a wall into the university’s campus on Friday, while dozens of troops sprinted through, carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Slightly to the north of campus, army units assisted by air strikes took control of Hadba district, opening up another front in the assault on the complex.
CTS commander Sami al-Aridhi said the university is an important gain for Iraqi forces, providing an outlook thanks to its hillside elevation which will be helpful in pushing Isis out of the city they have occupied since 2014.
The loss of the university, where jihadi propaganda had been forced onto the curriculum for the last two years, will also be a major morale loss to the group.
Iraq’s specially trained fighters have paid a heavy price since the US-coalition led battle was announced in October. About 2,000 troops have died in the face of fierce resistance from Isis to date – an alarming casualty rate observers have warned is unsustainable.
New tactics, such as better defences against suicide bombers and improved coordination between the different military divisions, has speeded up progress since the beginning of the New Year.
The fight has been slow, with almost one half of Mosul retaken so far – the east bank of the Tigris river, which divides the city in two.
Two of the city’s five main bridges have now been secured.
“Once you get to the river, you can then slowly mop [Isis fighters] up, because you can then cut the lines of communication,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters this week.
Elsewhere in the battle to oust Isis from Iraq, the UN has warned that an oil spill south of Mosul is close enough to the Tigris that it could leak into a key artery.
Most of the province’s population live on its banks, or nearby.
A new report this week said that 29 oil fires set alight by Isis four months ago are still continuing to burn, sending toxic smoke into the air.
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