Iraqi forces are still battling to retake a tiny sliver of the Old City held by Islamic State militants, a day after the prime minister visited soldiers to congratulate them on their victory. As Haider al-Abadi toured the city on foot, air strikes and exchanges of gunfire could still be heard in the narrow streets of the Old City. The road where the soldiers celebrated was scarred with gaping holes from explosions and rubble from a flattened multi-storey shopping mall.

Over nearly nine months of the campaign, Iraqi forces — backed by air strikes from the US-led coalition — have reduced the militant's hold on Iraq's second-largest city to less than a square kilometre of territory. But the air strikes have also reduced much of the city to rubble.

Mosul Old City destroyed
Mosul Old City destroyed
Mosul Old City destroyed
Mosul Old City destroyed
Mosul Old City destroyed

Inside the Old City the path carved by Iraqi forces levelled buildings that date back centuries, shattered priceless architecture and littered the narrow alleys with corpses decomposing in the summer heat. The city's iconic al-Nuri Mosque and its famous leaning minaret were destroyed a month ago by Isis to deny the Iraqi forces a symbolic triumph.

Mosul Old City destroyed
Members of the Emergency Response Division celebrate in a rubble-lined street in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Mosul Old City destroyed
An aerial of the destruction in Mosul's Old CityAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
Iraqi security forces' armoured vehicles make their way through the destruction in the Old CityAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
Smoke rises from an air strike in the Old City of Mosul during the final stage of the campaignAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Mosul Old City destroyed
Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service personnel walk between destroyed buildings in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Mosul Old City destroyed
Members of Iraqi Federal police carry suicide belts used by Islamic State militants in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Mosul Old City destroyed
Members of the Emergency Response Division walk in a destroyed building in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Mosul Old City destroyed
Members of the Emergency Response Division walk through the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Mosul Old City destroyed
An federal police armoured vehicle is seen in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters
Mosul Old City destroyed
Iraqi forces walking amid the destruction in Mosul's Old CityAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
Wrecked vehicles lie in a crater in the rubble of the Old CityAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
Members of the Iraqi federal police flash the sign for victory in celebration in a heavily damaged area of the Old City of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
An Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) member rests amid the rubble in the old city of MosulAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
Members of the Emergency Response Division rest among chunks of masonry in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters

The government forces' territorial gains in Mosul's Old City have largely been propelled by air strikes, despite the high risk of civilian casualties and warnings from human rights groups of the dangers of using large munitions in the dense, highly-populated area.

Special forces Lt Col Muhanad al-Timimi said over three days his forces carried out about 20 air strikes a day on an area of the Old City about one square kilometre in size. "It's because we have a lot of enemy forces here," he said, conceding the number of munitions used was relatively high.

Mosul Old City destroyed
A cloud of smoke and dust erupts following an air strike by US-led international coalition forcesAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
Smoke hangs over Mosul's Old City shortly before victory was announcedAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul Old City destroyed
An Iraqi forces sniper looks on as smoke billows following an air strike by US-led international coalition forcesAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP

Throughout the fight against Isis, the US-led coalition has largely relied on air strikes to enable Iraqi ground forces to advance. But in previous battles, civilians were evacuated from front lines. In Mosul, the Iraqi government told the city's estimated one million people to stay put to avoid massive displacement.

As strikes pummelled the Old City, thousands of civilians fled. Many were badly injured and had to be carried out over mounds of rubble by family members. Deeper inside the district, narrow alleyways were littered with bodies.

Mosul residents trapped Isis
Iraqi civilians pick their way over the rubble clogging the streets as they flee the Old City of MosulMartyn Aim/Corbis via Getty Images
Mosul residents trapped Isis
A woman and her children flee the Old City of Mosul where heavy fighting continues as Iraqi forces continue to encounter stiff resistance from Isls fightersMartyn Aim/Corbis via Getty Images

Iraqi forces have repeatedly requested air strikes in Mosul, often to kill teams of just two or three Isis fighters armed with light weapons.

Mosul Old City destroyed
Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service personnel walk past Islamic State militants' bodies in the Old City of MosulAlaa al-Marjani/Reuters

In the weeks leading up to the operation to retake the Old City the UN and human rights groups warned the Iraqi government against the use of air strikes in the densely-populated area. "In the crowded Old City, using explosive weapons with wide area effects puts civilians at excessive risk," Lama Fakih of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"The Coalition always seeks to use weapons that are proportional to the target to minimise collateral damage," the US-led coalition said in a written statement. "Nearly all munitions released have been precision guided to ensure we achieve the desired effects," the statement continued. "The avoidance of civilian casualties is our highest priority."

In a report released on Friday 7 July, monitoring group Airwars said they "presently estimate that between 900 and 1,200 civilians were likely killed by coalition air and artillery strikes over the course of the eight month (Mosul) campaign." The group said the territorial gains in Mosul come at a "terrible cost."

Mosul Old City destroyed
An Iraqi woman carrying a baby walks past the Al-Nuri Mosque, which was destroyed by Isis as the battle for Mosul neared the endAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
fleeing from the Old City of Mosul
5 July 2017: An Iraqi woman carrying a child rests while fleeing from the Old City of Mosul during Iraqi government forces' offensive to retake the city from IsisAhmad al-Rubaye/AFP
Mosul civilians
A woman and children flee the Old City of MosulFadel Senna/AFP

The victory in Mosul is bittersweet for the hundreds of thousands of Mosul residents displaced by months of combat, many of whom are living in camps outside the city. "If there is no rebuilding and people don't return to their homes and regain their belongings, what is the meaning of liberation?" Mohammed Haji Ahmed, 43, a clothing trader, told Reuters in the Hassan Sham camp to the east of Mosul.

The United Nations predicts it will cost more than $1 billion (£777m) to repair basic infrastructure in Mosul. In some of the worst-affected areas, almost no buildings appear to have escaped damage and Mosul's dense construction means the extent of the devastation might be underestimated, UN officials said.