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Troops storm Mosul's Old City in IS battle

Iraqi soldiers
Image: Iraqi soldiers taking part in an offensive against Islamic State in Mosul

An assault by Iraqi forces is under way to oust Islamic State from its last remaining stronghold in the country.

The Old City of Mosul is the only district still under control of the militants in the northern Iraqi city, which used to be the group’s capital in Iraq.

US-backed Iraqi troops have been battling to capture Mosul for nine months.

Iraqi troops with a captured Islamic State flag
Image: Iraqi troops with an IS flag seized in the battle for Mosul

IS also faces defeat in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, nearly three years after seizing large swathes of territory in both countries.

Military commander Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al Asadi said the storming of the Old City, was “the last chapter” in the offensive to take Mosul.

Debris fly as smoke rises after an artillery attack on the Islamic State militants' positions
Image: The US-backed offensive to recapture the city began nine months ago

About 100,000 civilians remain trapped there with little food, water and medicine and limited access to hospitals, according to the United Nations.

IS snipers are shooting at families trying to flee as part of a tactic to keep civilians as human shields, said the UN.

An Iraqi soldier and civilians run to avoid snipers of the Islamic State militants
Image: IS snipers have targeted fleeing civilians in a tactic to keep them as human shields

Iraqi government forces regained control of eastern Mosul in January, then launched an offensive a month later on the western side that includes the Old City.

The fall of Mosul would effectively signal the end of the Iraqi part of the “caliphate” that IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared in a speech from an historic mosque in the Old City back in 2014, covering parts of Iraq and Syria.

The Russian military recently claimed to have killed the terror chief in an airstrike in Syria last month.

Baghdadi pictured at his first public appearance at a mosque in Mosul
Image: Baghdadi declared a 'caliphate' at a historic mosque in the Old city in 2014

However, this has been treated with scepticism given he has frequently been reported killed or wounded over the last three years.

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    Image: US and South Korean warships were on manoeuvres in the Pacific in May 2017

    North Korea has warned the US would take a “dangerous and big step” towards nuclear war if it enforces a naval blockade.

    It said it would take “merciless self-defensive” measures.

    North Korea state media said the Trump administration was “pursuing a policy of military confrontation but this is nothing but a death-bed struggle by those alarmed by the might of the DPRK always emerging victorious”.

    “Should the United States and its followers try to enforce the naval blockade against our country, we will see it as an act of war and respond with merciless self-defensive counter-measures as we have warned repeatedly,” said KCNA, citing a foreign ministry spokesman.

    Although a blockade to enforce trade sanctions is not believed to be imminent, after North Korea’s November rocket test US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was a possibility.

    White House National Security adviser HR McMaster said in September however, that even ‘non-strike’ options carried the risk of military escalation.

    A view of the Hwasong-15's test
    Image: North Korea’s latest test was in November – of a Hwasong-15 rocket

    North Korea’s latest threat comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping – during a visit by South Korea’s leader – said war must not be allowed to break out.

    “The peninsula issue must, in the end, be resolved via dialogue and consultation,” he said.

    South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the presidents had agreed to cooperate in applying sanctions and pressure on the North.

    UN chief Antonio Guterres also said on Thursday that it was vital Security Council resolutions on North Korea were fully implemented by all countries.

    “The worst possible thing that could happen is for us all to sleepwalk into a war,” Mr Guterres said during a visit to Tokyo to meet Japan’s PM.

    North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un continues to defy the international community with regular missile tests and threats of nuclear strikes against the US mainland if provoked.

    The latest test – of a long-range Hwasong-15 rocket – was last month.

    :: Top North Korean officials ‘punished for taking bribes’

    Kim Jong Un watches North Korea's latest missile launch

    Despite President Trump’s bombastic language and counter-threats, Mr Tillerson recently offered direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions.

    Russia’s Vladimir Putin – speaking at his annual news conference on Thursday – said a pre-emptive US strike against North Korea would be “catastrophic” and called Mr Tillerson’s offer a “realistic” approach.

    More from North Korea

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    • Kim Jong Un celebrates missile launch with stroll on sacred mountain

    • North Korea is ‘hacking soaring Bitcoin exchanges’, say researchers

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    The UK maintains that economic pressure is the best way to deal with North Korea.

    Speaking at a news conference, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: “We don’t want to see a military solution… we want to see an intensified diplomatic effort.”

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