WASHINGTON -- Residents of eastern Mosul, Iraq, which were liberated Jan. 24 from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria's brutal control, are slowly returning to their normal lives, the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said Thursday.

"About 258,000 children are now free to return to more than 320 schools, reopened by the Iraqi government, since eastern Mosul was liberated," Army Col. Joseph Scrocca told Pentagon reporters via teleconference from Baghdad.

RETURNING HOME

More than 76,000 residents of eastern Mosul have returned home and "the Iraqi government is working hard every day to improve the quality of life, and re-establish essential services," Scrocca said.

This week, the spokesman noted, Mosul University celebrated its 50th anniversary.

"While ISIS destroyed the university library, and facilities are damaged from the fighting, students and faculty were on-site cleaning up and the law faculty has already started classes," Scrocca said.

The colonel said the United Nations reported 36,500 displaced children are participating in education programs in temporary learning spaces, which the Iraqi government, U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations set up.

MARKETS REOPEN, SERVICES TO RESUME

In liberated areas of Mosul, markets are reopening, work programs are in place and stabilization projects are ongoing, Scrocca said.

"Just this week, the Iraqi government approved more than 230 essential service projects across Mosul. We expect 60 of these to begin very soon. It includes the rehabilitation of water treatment plants, key infrastructure, sewage systems and hospitals," he said. "Through coordinated efforts with the Iraqi government and the U.N., along with humanitarian partners, Mosul residents are on track to return to a sense of normalcy that existed prior to the rule of ISIS in the city."

Meanwhile, the battle to retake western Mosul from ISIS continues, said Scocca, noting progress is slow but steady, especially in the narrow confines of the old city.

ISOLATING RAQQA

In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian-Arab Coalition fighters continue to liberate territory from ISIS to isolate Raqqa from the east, Scrocca said.

"After seizing Tabqa airfield last week, the SDF is working to surround the town of Tabqa," he said. "The SDF conducted water crossing today, to link their forces in the north and south to the east of the Tabqa dam."

Scrocca added, "With this link up, the SDF has continued to expand their hold on terrain south of the Euphrates River. The SDF continued to meet resistance in the form of small-arms fire, [vehicle-borne bombs], munitions dropped from [unmanned aerial vehicles] and pockets of foreign fighters in their pursuit to seize the dam from ISIS."

At the Tabqa dam, water is again flowing through four of its gates, and as previously reported, the dam is functioning and does not appear to be in any imminent danger of collapse, the colonel said.

"The seizure of the Tabqa dam will squeeze ISIS out of yet another Syrian area they control, driving them closer to a lasting defeat," Scrocca said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)