The Islamic State fighters slipped into their boats and crossed the Tigris under the cover of heavy skies, fanning out on the eastern bank near a ramshackle fairground known as the “Mosul Jungle”, and prepared their assault.
“Fourteen fighters crossed the river, followed by a second boat of fighters,” a commander from Iraq’s elite Golden Division told Middle East Eye. “There was strong fighting, but they were trapped and couldn’t get back across so we killed them all.”
Golden Division forces then called in an air strike on the second boat, ending the threat in a deluge of water and flying wreckage.
It was the first of two amphibious assaults by IS in recent days in the city, with fighters crossing from the IS-controlled west of the city to harass the forward positions of Iraqi forces on the east.
They have been aided by poor weather and cloud, which prevents aerial surveillance – but the keen eyes of Iraqi soldiers have thwarted their attempts.
Undeterred, four militants tried the same tactics the following day. Again, with fatal consequences.
“They are using rowing boats, boats with engines and they are now even swimming across the Tigris and then hiding in the trees,” said Captain Mohammed from the Golden Division. “They will use anything and everything to try and breach our front lines along the river.”
The captain said IS fighters who managed to reach eastern Mosul focused their attacks on riverside positions held by the regular Iraqi army, deemed weaker than the Golden Division, which has steadily handed over its forward positions that now run the length of the eastern side of the Tigris.
“They are scared of us and we found out they call us ‘the Black Killers’ because we always dress in black,” he said.
“Maybe some of them do really believe that they can take back control of east Mosul but, for most of them, I think it’s enough to just to try and kill some of us. They want to die fighting because they believe they will go to paradise.”
Further attacks from the river are expected and, following the recent IS breaches, some special forces soldiers have had leave postponed to continue supporting the front lines.
But IS has also been trying to weaken army positions with a relentless bombardment of mortar bombs and drone-borne explosives and sniper attacks.
Newly-arrived reinforcements from the regular army enthusiastically piled out of Humvees near a central frontline position on Sunday.
One carried a small cage of pigeons, saying it was an Iraqi tradition to release the birds for good luck. Within a few minutes, the whiz of incoming sniper fire sent them scattering for shelter.
They quickly unloaded the Humvees, bent double trying to keep out of sniper sight carrying heavy ammunition boxes, backpacks and blankets.
“This is the first time we’ve had IS snipers targeting these positions,” said Golden Division officer Hassan. “We suspect one of the local residents around here gave them information about our positions.”
From mosques in western Mosul, the call to prayer echoed out across the river.
“When the wind is blowing towards us, like today, we can hear everything from western Mosul really clearly and Daesh know we can hear them,” said Hassan.
“Yesterday they were singing ‘Takbir’ all day,” he said in reference to a call often played on repeat during times of war.
“They made announcements from the minaret loudspeakers saying, ‘Allah is on our side not on yours’, but we just laugh at this because God is for everyone – not just for them.”
As the muezzin’s call faded, on a nearby rooftop, Golden Division gunners rattled fire on IS-held western Mosul.
Downstairs, the radio crackled with an alert that an IS armed drone was circling overhead.
One of the Golden Division officers radioed to nearby positions instructing forces to ensure all vehicles were immediately taken under cover.
Many of the army’s Humvees, made in Egypt, are of low quality and easy pickings for IS drone bombs.
A volley of gunfire overhead indicated that the soldiers on the roof had spotted the drone but, small and high-flying, even the most experienced gunners find them very difficult to shoot down.
“Daesh are now using a lot of armed drones. The images are relayed back to some IS fighter with an iPad over in western Mosul and, if he sees a Golden Division Humvee on his screen, that will be his principle target,” said Captain Mohammed.
“But they are also injuring a lot of civilians and children with these attacks.”
On Tuesday, IS drones reached as far into eastern Mosul as ‘Jonah’s Tomb’, liberated a fortnight ago, injuring six Iraqi workers on a tea break while repairing damaged infrastructure.
Puddles of blood from the wounded men and smashed tea glasses still covered the ground. The bomb fell two metres from the group.
Jonah’s Tomb, the historic hilltop shrine to Muslim and Christians alike, was demolished by IS after they seized control of Mosul in 2014.
Since its liberation, hundreds of Mosul residents and Iraqi armed forces have flocked to what remains of the shrine to pay their respects. It was a cruel target.
A temporary mobile phone mast, powered by a huge generator, has been erected there to supply service to areas of the city which IS long kept without network coverage, which could have been the intended target.