End is near for ISIS as chief Baghdadi cornered in Mosul

Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been trapped by Iraqi Army, which entered the terrorist group's stronghold of Mosul for the first time in more than two years for a final assault, a report has claimed.

Abu Bakr al-BaghdadiBaghdadi, who has been hiding in Mosul, has been encircled by the Iraqi army and allied militias, a senior Kurdish commander told the Independent daily.

The battle for Mosul, where the self-declared caliph of IS is believed to be hiding, is likely to end in a decisive defeat for the terrorist group, the Independent said.

In an interview published on Wednesday, Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Iraqi Kurdistan's head Massoud Barzani, said that though he has been lying low for the past eight or nine months, Baghdadi is most likely still alive and in the city.

"Baghdadi is there and, if he is killed, it will mean the collapse of the whole IS system," Hussein said, pointing to the vulnerability of Islamic State's command structure, which has no suitable replacement for Baghdadi.

According to Hussein, the IS leader has had to completely rely on other militant commanders in Mosul and the nearby city of Tal Afar, a largely Turkmen-populated city in the Nineveh Province.

While Hussein believes that Baghdadi's demise will speed efforts to retake the country, his presence in the IS capital in Iraq may result in the jihadists resorting to desperate tactics to protect their kingpin.

"It is obvious that they will lose, but not how long this will take to happen," he said, adding that the timeline of the battle for Mosul will be determined by several variables.

On Tuesday, soldiers from Iraq's elite Counter Terrorism Service seized control of the state television station in the Gogjali neighbourhood, making it the first major building in the city to be recaptured from IS.

Other senior and better known figures in IS, particularly those from Syria and other countries, have been killed since their initial triumphs in the summer of 2014 when they took over much of northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

The presence of Baghdadi in Mosul may complicate and prolong the battle for Mosul as his surviving adherents fight to the death to defend him.

If he is killed, IS would have to choose a new caliph in the middle of a battle, but no successor would have the authority and prestige of Baghdadi, the leader who surprised the world by establishing the caliphate after capturing Mosul in June 2014.

Hussein said Kurdish Peshmerga forces had been impressed by the extraordinary number of tunnels that IS had dug in order to provide hiding places in the villages around Mosul.

Hussein said the speed of the fall of Mosul would depend on many factors especially whether or not IS "is going to destroy the five bridges over the river."

Iraqi troops entered Gogjali, a district inside Mosul's city limits, and later the borders of the more built-up Karama district, according to Major General Sami al-Aridi of the Iraqi special forces.

"Daesh (IS) is fighting back and have set up concrete blast walls to block off the Karama neighbourhood and [stop] our troops' advance," General Aridi said.

The anti-IS offensive is dependent on US-led air strikes and the presence of US special forces.