Bawiza (Iraq): Iraqi soldiers fighting just north of Mosul, within sight of city neighbourhoods, said on Sunday they were ready to tighten the noose around IS militants waging a brutal defence of their Iraqi stronghold.
Four weeks into the campaign to crush IS in Mosul, the city is almost surrounded but the militants' defences have been breached so far only to the east, where they have battled elite troops for control of up to a dozen districts.
The battle for Mosul is the largest military operation in Iraq in a decade of turmoil unleashed by the 2003 US invasion.
Iraq's government, which has assembled a 100,000-strong coalition of troops, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and militias, backed by US air power, says it will mark the end of IS in Iraq.
But it says the fight may be a long one.
An army special forces officer on the northern front line said his men aimed to target Hadba, the first neighbourhood ahead of them within city limits. The district was visible from his position in the village of Bawiza.
Brigadier Ali Abdulla said IS fighters had been pushed out of Bawiza and another village, Saada, although progress had been slowed by the presence of civilians he said were being used by the militants as human shields.
"Our approach (to Hadba) will be very slow and cautious so that we can reach the families and free them from Daesh's (IS's) grip," Abdulla said.
The timing of the decision to move on Hadba would also depend on progress on other fronts he said.
Security forces are advancing to the south of Mosul, targeting the city's airport on the west bank of the Tigris river.
Abdulla said IS was using suicide car bombs, roadside bombs, snipers and long range mortars to try to hold back the army advance in the north - all tactics it has used to lethal effect on the eastern front as well.
Another officer, Captain Oqba Nafaa, said the militants were still fighting in Saada, using a network of tunnels to carry out surprise strikes on the attacking forces.
That also echoed the urban warfare which they have deployed to lethal effect in the east of the city against elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) forces and an armoured division.
In some districts, control has changed hands three or four times as the militants, using tunnels and exploiting the presence of civilians as cover, have launched night-time attacks and reversed military gains of the previous day.
One resident of Al Qadisiya Al Thaniya district, which the elite Counter Terrorism Service entered on Friday, said the special forces later pulled back and IS fighters returned.
"They came back to us again, and this is what we feared. At night there were fierce clashes and we heard powerful explosions," she told Reuters.
About 30 km (20 miles) south of Mosul, troops recaptured the town of Nimrud on Sunday, next to the ancient Assyrian city which was overrun by IS militants two years ago.
"Troops from the Ninth Armoured Division liberated Nimrud town completely and raised the Iraqi flag above its buildings," a military statement said. The town of Nimrud lies 1km (less than 1 mile) west of the ruins of the 3,000-year-old city.
The soldiers also captured the village of Numaniya, on the edge of Nimrud, which was once the capital of an Assyrian empire.
The Iraqi government says Nimrud was bulldozed last year by IS. Video footage released by IS, purportedly from Nimrud, also showed its fighters destroying relics with electric drills and explosives.
More than 54,000 people have been displaced so far in the four-week Mosul campaign.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Sunday tens of thousands of people "lack access to water, food, electricity and basic health services" in areas recaptured by the army in Mosul and surrounding towns and villages.
Ultimately, 700,000 people were likely to need shelter, food, water or medical support.