New Zealand's top soldier in Baghdad at the heart of the coalition helping to fight Isis, Brigadier General Hugh McAslan, says the Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul is nearly over.

"They are very close to liberating their second largest city and Isis' self-declared caliphate, Mosul," he said in an interview this week.

In the past two and a half year the Iraqis had re-secured their own infrastructure, taken back well over 1200 villages and had freed almost 1.7 million Iraqis had been freed from Isis.

"It is a very, very positive story and they are upbeat," he told the Herald.

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McAslan is deputy commanding general of the Coalition Joint Force land Component Command Iraq, also known as CJFLCC-OIR, pronounced C-Jay-Flick, a position which rotates around members of the Coalition.

East Mosul was captured between November and January but it was always anticipated that winning the West of the city would be harder, street by street and house by house.

"It is different because of the fact that the buildings are a lot older, the streets are a lot closer and for Isis they have had a two-year period to prepare for this."

Isis was "a vicious, cruel occupier in terms of how they have behaved."

Isis had continued to use car bombs, booby trapping of buildings and houses.
It was doing everything it could to make it as difficult as possible for the Iraqis.

"But with that, the Iraqis are making progress every day," he said.

People had been leaving Mosul throughout the campaign, about 493,000 to date.
About 340,000 people in camps but about 116,000 had returned to the city.

With 75 per cent to 80 per cent of Mosul liberated, this past week had seen more residents returning to the city than fleeing.

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About two weeks ago, 10,000 a day were leaving the city, he said but that was a sign that areas previously held by Isis were diminishing.

Former Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at Camp Taji in March this year. Photo/NZ Defence Force.
Former Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee at Camp Taji in March this year. Photo/NZ Defence Force.

Some areas to the west of Mosul were still under Isis control, such as Tal Afar city. But there was no way Isis fighters were heading out of Mosul for other areas, McAslan said.

The Iraqis had sealed off the city and surrounded the remaining neighbours under Isis control.

He was aware of some Isis fighters surrendering but said: "It would be apparent there would be a good number of the remaining fighters that are in Mosul who don't intend to surrender."

Asked exactly what Coalition personnel were doing and how far away from Mosul they were, McAslan said: "Our advise and assist teams that work alongside Iraqi commanders, they got with those commanders where they need to be to influence and control the battle. "

"That is so we can provide the best advice possible to our Iraqi partners on the conduct of the battle itself and also how best we can influence the battle through air strikes and our intelligence."

He would not talks about nationalities involved or where they were.

However it is thought the US has about 5000 troops in Iraq and about 450 involved in advise and assist roles.

Australia is involved in "advise and assist" roles but New Zealand is not.

New Zealand is running a training mission jointly with Australia at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, where about 22,000 Iraqis have been trained.

All up, about 100,000 Iraqis have been trained in several camps across Iraq.

New Zealand's deployment is due to end at the end of next of next year.

The fifth rotation of about 100 Kiwis is on its way to Camp Taji, Defence Minister Mark Mitchell announced yesterday.