The leader of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group, Ibrahim al-Samarrai, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has reportedly fled Iraq's Mosul for his life, leaving the battle to the group's operational commanders.
US and Iraqi intelligence sources said an absence of official communication from the terrorist group's leadership and the loss of ground in Mosul might be proof that Baghdadi had left Mosul, the last major urban area controlled by Daesh in Iraq.
The sources said the Daesh ringleader is now hiding out in the desert. However, it is impossible to confirm his whereabouts.
The sources added that Baghdadi had proved to be an elusive target. The ringleader is rarely using communication that can be monitored, and moving constantly, often multiple times during a 24-hour period, they added.
According to the intelligence sources, Baghdadi is believed to be hiding mostly among well-disposed civilians in familiar desert villages and not with militants in their barracks in urban areas where battle has been under way.
The sources also suggested that Baghdadi and his circle had become increasingly isolated, citing a sharp decline in the terrorist group's postings on social media.
Mosul fell to Daesh in June 2014, shortly after the Takfiri terrorists unleashed a campaign of terror and destruction in the northern and western parts of Iraq.
Iraqi forces and allies liberated the eastern sector of the city in January, following 100 days of fighting. The forces are now in the middle of an operation to retake the western half of the city.
Since February 19, when the offensive to liberate western Mosul began, Iraqi forces have made major gains against the terrorists on Mosul's western front.
On Tuesday, Iraqi forces thwarted a Daesh counterattack near Mosul's main government buildings.
Major General Ali Kadhem al-Lami of the Federal Police's Fifth Division said the terrorists used car bombs in their attack around the Nineveh governorate building, adding, "Today we're clearing the area which was liberated."
The provincial government headquarters were recaptured by the elite interior ministry division, Rapid Response troops, on Tuesday, along with the central bank branch and a museum, which Lami said was "completely empty of all artifacts." "They were stolen, possibly smuggled," he added.
On Wednesday, Iraqi troops continued to advance in the region, taking control of the last major road linking the west of the city to the Daesh-held town of Tal Afar and then to the Syrian border.
State TV also quoted another military statement as saying that forces also seized Badush prison, northwest of Mosul near the road, where Daesh reportedly executed hundreds of inmates in 2014.