For the last couple of weeks, the Iraqi forces have been trying hard to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) terrorists.
The ongoing battle to recapture the northern Iraqi city is significant for various reasons. The Sunni-majority Mosul is the IS’ last stronghold in the war-ravaged West Asian country. Mosul is also Iraq’s second largest city and whosoever controls Mosul, controls a large part of Iraqi territory. The capture of Mosul gave the terror outfit legitimacy as an Islamic caliphate. The Iraqi government is well aware of the fact that the northern city, once home to more than two million people, is the IS’ vital source of tax revenue and child labour. During the pre-war era, Mosul had Iraq’s largest Christian population.
Mosul’s geographical location is also strategically important, as the city commands critical road networks. The IS’ chemical weapons operations are based here in Mosul. The IS had managed to take over Iraqi armouries only after capturing the city. The ancient Assyrian city was a centre of antiquities and historical sites. So, it becomes easier for the IS to generate revenue by selling rare antiquities.
The Haider al-Abadi government in Baghdad has deployed 44,000 Iraqi forces to capture Mosul. Not since the invasion of Kuwait have Iraqi forces mobilised in such massive numbers. These forces include members of the Counter-Terrorism Services – Iraq’s elite special forces. The Iraqi media reported that around 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga, 2,000-4,000 Shia militia and 6,000 local Sunni tribal fighters, too, joined the war against the IS to liberate Mosul.
With the US-led coalition providing air power and artillery help, logistics and planning the operation, the Iraqi troops launched the attack on October 17 from the key base of Qayyarah, 64km from Mosul. Almost immediately, Peshmerga and Iraqi forces took villages in fierce fighting starting Al Shura, moving onto Qaragosh, reaching within 5km of Mosul’s outskirts. The coalition air-strikes, including ones from Mount Zardak, hit IS targets. The Iraqi government’s plan is to also secure areas west to Mosul in order to stop the IS fighters fleeing into neighbouring Syria.
Reports suggest that 24,000 gas masks have been given to the Iraqi forces and Peshmerga fighters, as the IS sets ablaze part of a chemical plant, filling the air to Mosul’s south with thick clouds of toxic smoke. Although the IS is outnumbered in Mosul, the outfit is fighting back. Around 1,000-6,000 IS forces in and around Mosul are returning fire with mortars, machine guns and suicide attacks. They are also packing vehicles with explosives and sending those to Kurdish positions. Apart from filling trenches with oil, the terror outfit is also building tunnels and planting improvised bombs along roads to the city and within it to slow the Iraqi advance. Even, IS fighters are making smoke screens to block coalition fighter jets’ visibility.
The IS’ war policy has prompted the Iraqi forces to tighten encirclement operation in order to cut off terrorists inside city from reinforcements or supplies and to seal off escape routes towards Syria. The Iraqi government forces are planning to meet the enemy at increasing number of points around Mosul’s edges with heavier air-strikes. Iraq’s elite Counter-Terror Units have decided to enter the city at different points. So, the IS is expected to fall back on narrow alleys of the old city where the danger to civilians is the highest.
The IS has already lost over 12% of the territory across Syria and Iraq, including Ramadi, Tikrit and Falluja, which it controlled in January 2016. Even if the Iraqi forces take two more weeks to take full control of Mosul, they can seal the fate of the IS in Iraq. That is why the recapturing of Mosul is so significant.