I was quoted in “Iraqi Kurdistan fears Maliki returning to power” by Paul Iddon in Al Araby. I did an interview with Radio Sputnik World Service from Moscow on the Trump administration's Iraq policy. I was cited in "Bataille de Mossoul: 4 Semaines de Preparation Intensive Avant L'Assaut Sur L'Ouest De La Ville Declenche Dimanche" by France Soir.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
(Medecins Sans Frontieres)
As the Iraqi forces (ISF) moved into south Mosul itself their advance slowed down. In the rural villages in the lead up to Mosul there was not much resistance, but now that the city has been reached IS is fighting back with its usual mix of mortars, snipers, drones, and car bombs. General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of the Golden Division said that movement was very slow.
The army, police, and Golden Division were still engaged in Mamun, Wadi Hajar, and Tayaran in the southern tip of the city. The 9th Division did take the power station in Yarmouk, which supplies all of Mosul. Fighting and defending in Mamun was difficult because the streets were not laid out in a grid, making it difficult to block routes to protect against car bombs. IS also flooded part of the neighborhood to impede the movement of the ISF. The insurgents have been forcing people out of their homes to convert them into fighting positions. The ISF claimed that the Islamic State set some buildings on fire when people refused to leave them. IS has always put up an effective urban defense. It has been unable to sustain it over the long run however.
As the government forces reached the city, civilians began to flow out. Reuters reported that around 1,000 people were seen leaving. Many were not from Mosul itself, but were actually from southern towns that were taken as human shields by the Islamic State. One family was from Hamam al-Alil for instance and had been forced into Mosul four months ago by the insurgents. No matter their origin, the ISF were screening all the men as usual looking for IS members.
In the west the Hashd freed four more villages in the Tal Afar district. The Hashd’s main job during the campaign has been to cut the Islamic State’s supply lines reaching west from Mosul to Syria. It is supposed to take Tal Afar itself sometime, but it has not moved on the town yet.
The Hashd also released video footage claiming to be the United States parachuting supplies to IS in the Tal Afar area. Earlier they claimed that U.S. planes had dropped arms and ammunition to the insurgents in the same area, and was helping IS leaders escape. Many of the Hashd units in the west are pro-Iranian and have made these types of charges against the Americans since 2014. It is part of their standard propaganda to undermine the U.S. presence in Iraq.
A few miles south of Mosul the ISF found a mass grave called the “horror hole”. Residents said that IS executed hundreds of people and dropped them into a huge pit outside the village of Athba. The non-governmental organization Iraq Observatory for Human Rights claimed that there could be up to 5,000 people at the site.
Adel, Loaa, "Iraqi forces push deeper into western Mosul as civilians flee," Iraqi News, 2/25/17
AIN, "Urgent popular crowd free Aziziyah village east of Tal Afar," 2/25/17
Buratha News, “Extended: Latest developments in the field during the Ninewa We Are Coming operation until 17:30 Saturday 25 02 2017,” 2/25/17
Callimachi, Rukmini, “A Ruined Farmer and a Love Letter: Remnants From Fighting in Western Mosul,” New York Times, 2/25/17
Coles, Isabel, “Iraqi forces push deeper into western Mosul as civilians flee,” 2/25/17
George, Susannah, “Conditions deteriorate in west Mosul as Iraqi advances slow,” Associated Press, 2/25/17
Face Iraq, “International coalition artillery bombed Daesh targets from Mosul Airport,” 2/25/17
Makhzoomi, Khairuldeen, “ISIS threw hundreds of bodies in a ‘horror hole,’” Huffington Post, 2/24/17
New Sabah, “Counter Terrorism forces will remain in the Wadi Hajar neighborhood and liberation of villages on the right bank of Mosul,” 2/25/17
Rudaw, “Iraqi forces make large gains in southwestern Mosul a week into third phase,” 2/25/17
- “Iraqi forces seize key power station that supplies electricity to entire Mosul,” 2/25/17
Shafaaq News, “Details on the battle with Daesh and the most prominent achievements of the Iraq forces during the day in Mosul,” 2/25/17
Sotaliraq, “Unidentified aircraft believed to be American drop parachutes on sites under Daesh control,” 2/25/17
World Bulletin, "5 Iraqi soldiers killed in Mosul clashes," 2/25/17
Xinhua, “Iraqi forces push deeper into IS-held western side of Mosul,” 2/25/17
Saturday, February 25, 2017
In the last two days the police and armor from the 9th Division moved out of Abu Saif in the south, took the town of Yarmouk. The Golden Div joined in and together they have freed the Mosul Airport, Ghazalni Camp, and entered Tel Ruman, Mamun, Wadi Hajar, Hawl al-Josaq and Dandan. (Medecins Sans Frontieres)
February 24 the Iraqi forces (ISF) secured the Mosul airport and Ghazlani camp and headed north into the city itself. The Golden Division secured Ghazlani, while the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division, supported by armor of the 9th Division did the same for Mosul airport. Large numbers of Islamic State fighters surrendered to the police at the airfield, something that has not really been reported before. This could point to the insurgents’ morale breaking. The Golden Division then moved into the Maamun Wadi Hajar neighborhoods to the northwest of Ghazlani. The two police units went for Hawl al-Josaq and Dandan, which are directly north of the airport, freeing the latter. The army’s 9th Division and the Hashd’s Al Abbas Division took Tal Ruman that is to the east of Maamun. The ISF were using bulldozers to make new roadways to avoid the main thoroughfares, which have been laced with IEDs. Moving to the outskirts of the city was relatively easy, but now the real fight is beginning as the ISF enter the Mosul itself.
The Hashd in the western Tal Afar district were also busy. They liberated three towns. The Hashd have moved form cutting the supply lines from Tal Afar to Syria to interdicting the lines from Mosul to Tal Afar.
There were constant Coalition air strikes and U.S. Apache helicopters flying overhead as the ISF moved into Mosul. Those were facilitated by U.S. and Coalition advisers, which are now forward deployed at the front with the Golden, Rapid Reaction, and 9th Divisions. The Associated Press talked with U.S. Lt. Colonel James Browning who was working with the 9th Division. He took calls from an Iraqi general on IS locations, which were then confirmed by Coalition surveillance, and then hit with air, helicopter or artillery fire. Before these Iraqi requests would have to be forwarded to the joint operations command in Baghdad before anything could be done taking precious time. Now the call and response period is much quicker. This is part of the Trump administration’s more aggressive approach to taking on the Islamic State. As a result, the Americans have loosened the rules of engagement and allowed its troops to be at the front, which has also resulted in casualties. This change in policy will greatly enhance the Iraqis ability to clear areas and advance in the city.
The renewed fighting has led to a new wave of displaced. The Iraq Red Crescent reported that approximately 990 people registered with the government and aid agencies fleeing south Mosul. These civilians were taken to Qayara to the south of the city or to Irbil in the east where camps are set up. For the last few weeks more people were going back to their homes, but that has now been reversed as the battle for west Mosul has begun.
Securing east Mosul is still a major challenge. The National Security Service (NSS) is trying to hunt down IS members. They are collecting information on suspects using information from locals. The NSS however is not the only group doing security duties. There are also army, police, and local Hashd units. These groups hardly coordinate and compete with each other, which has caused all kinds of problems. People are also beginning to complain about the raids and mass arrests. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi is talking about appointing a military governor of Mosul again to try to unify this effort. This idea was brought up before, but nothing came of it. Now that IS is picking up its attacks there is added pressure to try to find a solution.
National Security Service raid in east Mosul (Al Jazeera)
The danger facing east Mosul continued. The Iraqi forces interdicted a large force of IS fighters attempting to cross the Tigris River. More importantly residents said that IS is posting threats to people on social networks. The militants recently put up flyers in an east Mosul neighborhood intimidating people as well. These are very serious because if people feel that they are not safe they will eventually stop providing intelligence to the Iraqi forces. If that happens there is no way to root out the Islamic State and they can start rebuilding their networks in the city just as Baghdad has expended so much energy to try to win over the populace by liberating them.
U.S. general Joseph Votel gave a rough estimate of the Iraqi casualties from the battle for east Mosul. He said 500 Iraqi soldiers died and another 3,000 were wounded. More ISF were reported killed in the press, but only around half as many injured. The real figures may never become public as Baghdad is completely adverse to bad news about the war coming out.
Finally, the Oil Ministry announced that another oil well in Qayara had been extinguished. That leaves three wells still ablaze. The field was set on fire when IS was forced out in August, and has been an environmental disaster ever since.
Al Aalem, “Pictures: large numbers of Daesh in the hands of the Rapid Reaction Forces south Mosul,” 2/24/17
BBC, “Iraqi forces enter IS-held neighbourhood in west Mosul,” 2/24/17
Beck, John, “Hunting down ISIL sleeper cells in Mosul,” 2/24/17
Chulov, Martin, “Iraqi forces seize Mosul airport from Isis as Syrian rebels take al-Bab,” Guardian, 2/24/17
Al Forat, "Foiled Daesh attack in Al Manatiq," 2/24/17
George, Susannah and Szlanko, Balint, “US changes rules of engagement for Mosul fight in Iraq,” Associated Press, 2/24/17
Iraq Oil Report, "Inside Mosul: Feb. 23, 2017," 2/23/17
Iraq Red Crescent Society, “Iraqi Red Crescent: Increase in the number of displaced people to 990 after operations begin in he West side of Mosul City,” 2/24/17
Kalin, Stephen and Coles, Isabel, “Iraqi forces push into first districts of western Mosul,” Reuters, 2/24/17
Al Mada, “Founder of the first Nineveh Operations Command is responsible for security in the left coast of Mosul,” 2/25/17
- “Thwarted an infiltration attempt by hundreds of militants into the left coast of Mosul,” 2/25/17
Al Masalah, “Oil Ministry announces extinguishing well #58 in Qayyarah field,” 2/25/17
New Sabah, “The joint forces liberated Ghazlani camp and Mosul airport flying the Iraqi flag over them,” 2/24/17
Rudaw, “LIVE: Iraqi forces enter first district in western Mosul, gain ground against ISIS,” 2/24/17
Salim, Mustafa and Morris, Loveday, “Iraqi jets strike Islamic State in Syria for first time as troops advance in Mosul,” Washington Post, 2/24/17
Shafaaq News, “Full details of the last 24-hours of battle in Mosul,” 2/24/17
Shakir, Sarhad and Qassim, Ahmed, "Iraqi forces take 1st district of W. Mosul: Army source," Anadolu Agency, 2/23/17
Stanglin, Doug, “Iraqi troops battle booby-trapped drones as they enter western Mosul,” USA Today, 2/24/17
Voice of America, “US-backed Iraqi Forces Take Control of Mosul Airport, Enter City,” 2/24/17
Wedeman, Ben, “Battle for Mosul: Iraqi forces advance near key area in city’s west,” CNN, 2/24/17
Friday, February 24, 2017
|Iraqi police forces moving on Mosul airport (Reuters)|
On February 23 the Iraqi forces (ISF) attacked Mosul airport and the Ghazlani base next door. First the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division set off from Abu Saif and took the town of Yarmouk, and then attacked Mosul airport, finding little resistance. Tanks from the army’s 9th Division supported them. On a separate axis, the Golden Division joined by the Al-Abbas Division of the Hashd took the town of Tal Rayan outside of Mosul that the Islamic State had been using as a sniper and mortar base, and then moved onto the Ghazlani base attacking it from two directions. ISF officers and several reporters declared the airport free, but the Joint Operations Command announced only 50% was under control. The Operations Command also added that 85% of Ghazlani was in government hands.
U.S. led Coalition advisers were seen supporting the ISF during the day. One was reportedly wounded by the Mosul airport, but no nationality was given. The U.S. general in charge of the Central Command General Joseph Votel has told the press that there are 450 U.S. Special Forces taking part in the new Mosul campaign. These are forward deployed for the first time under President Trump’s new anti-IS policy.
For the first time the ISF entered west Mosul itself. Maamun, Kherba and Wadi Hajar were all attacked by the Golden and 16th Divisions with the first two being freed. The Islamic State was said to have put up a tough fight for these areas. Chechens, some of the group’s best fighters were reportedly involved.
The Iraqi forces are not only moving on a broad southern front, but are also in the west and going to add a northern one as well. In the west, units from the 9th, 15th and 16th Divisions along with the Al-Abbas Division are present. Elements of those three army divisions are supposed to move on the northwest sometime soon. This will put added pressure upon the Islamic State having to fight on multiple fronts. The ISF originally attempted to do this in its attack on west Mosul but poor coordination and novice units undermined the effort.
The flow of the displaced has shifted back to more people leaving rather than returning in Ninewa. According to the International Organization for Migration the number of people registering with the government and aid agencies went from 159,006 on January 26 to 161,730 on February 23. At the start of February more people were leaving camps and going back to Mosul and the surrounding towns. The reversal was due to a number of reasons. First, the new campaign has led to people leaving southern Mosul. Second, the constant IS attacks on east Mosul has driven civilians out. Third, stories of shortages and the lack of services and jobs have also made some people to reconsider going back. The number of displaced has always ebbed and flowed and there will likely be a decided increase as more of west Mosul is entered, followed by a decrease as more areas are freed and people start returning.
Abdul-Zahra, Qassim and Salaheddin, Sinan, “US-backed Iraqi forces enter Mosul airport, military base,” Associated Press, 2/23/17
Adel, Loaa, "Elite militia leader killed in armed clashes with IS near Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/23/17
AIN, "Video..of the strongest confrontation with the popular crowd west of Tal Afar," 2/23/17
Airwars, "February 23rd 2017: New Mosul, Mosul, Nineveh province, Iraq"
BBC, “Mosul offensive: Iraqi forces recapture airport in bid to retake city,” 2/23/17
Bulos, Nabih, Abdul Illah, Haidar, “U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recapture Mosul airport and military base,” Los Angeles Times, 2/23/17
CBS News, “Fierce clashes as U.S.-backed forces battle ISIS for airport,” 2/23/17
Chappell, Bill, “Fight For Mosul Moves Westward And Centers On City’s Airport,” NPR, 2/23/17
Coles, Isabel and Kalin, Stephen, “Iraqi forces storm Mosul airport, military base,” Reuters, 2/23/17
Gordon, Michael, “Iraqi Forces Take Most of Mosul Airport in Push Against ISIS,” New York Times, 2/23/17
International Organization for Migration, “Displacement Tracking Matrix Emergency Tracking Factsheet #17 – Mosul Operations From 17 October to 23 February,” 2/23/17
Iraq Oil Report, “Inside Mosul: Feb. 23, 2017,” 2/23/17
Al Jazeera, “Iraqi forces take control of Mosul Airport,” 2/23/17
Neuhof, Florian, “Iraqi special forces capture Mosul airport from ISIL,” The National, 2/23/17
New Sabah, "The joint forces stormed Ghazlani camp south Mosul after controlling strategic areas," 2/22/17
Rudaw, “LIVE: Iraqi forces control more than half of Mosul airport,” 2/23/17
Shafaaq News, "Urgent..wounding a soldier from the international coalition during the battle of Mosul airport," 2/23/17
Smith, Alexander, “Iraqi Forces Recapture ISIS-Held Mosul Airport Under Fire: State TV,” NBC News, 2/23/17
World Bulletin, “Iraqi security forces storm ISIL-held Mosul airport,” 2/23/17
Xinhua, “Iraqi forces free Mosul airport from IS militants,” 2/23/17
- “Iraqi forces launch operation to retake Mosul airport, military base,” 2/23/17
Thursday, February 23, 2017
The Iraqi forces’ (ISF) statements either by officers or even official ones have become so unreliable that they cannot be trusted unless pictures are posted on social media or a western reporter confirms them. For example, on February 20 a police major told Bas News that the Rapid Reaction Division was attacking the Ghazlani camp on the outskirts of southern Mosul. On February 21, a source told AIN that the camp had been liberated. February 22, the Joint Operations Command officially announced that the Rapid Reaction Division and Federal Police were assaulting the facility, and moving onto the Mosul airport as well. In fact, they did not do either of those until February 23. The ISF has a poor record on reporting on the facts of their operations. Towns have been declared freed before the ISF even arrive, or when they are first attacked, or when there is still shooting going on. This is due to the government’s victory narrative that the ISF are constantly winning. That explains the above statements and others like them since the war started in 2014. The problem is the Iraqi forces are advancing and they are winning yet they can’t stop exaggerating. Ghazlani is going to be taken, so why say it is before it actually happens?
What the police forces were actually doing on February 22 was solidifying their positions in the town of Abu Saif, which they just freed the day before. They were building defensive berms, and preparing to take Yarmouk, which is just north of Abu Saif, and then attack Ghazlani and the airport. Coalition air strikes were softening up those areas. 480 people fled Yarmouk to Abu Saif. They told the Iraqi forces that there were hardly any Islamic State fighters ahead of them, so they should move forward. Overall resistance has been very light so far on this front.
Hashd forces in the west were on the offensive taking two towns and attacking another. IS launched a number of counter attacks with car bombs and suicide bombers. The main goal of these units is to cut the road between Mosul and Tal Afar to try to button up Islamic State fighters within the former.
During the day one cameraman was wounded covering the new campaign.
More importantly, the United States admitted that its advisers had taken fire and been wounded. No details were given, but the Americans said that its forces had been travelling with Iraqis at the front and suffered casualties as a result. This is part of the new Trump Administration’s policy of increasing its participation in the war against the Islamic State.
Everyday the militants are bombarding east Mosul with drones, mortars, and rockets. The press is covering fewer and fewer of these incidents, but that doesn't mean they’re not happening. The only casualties reported were 5 killed and 3 injured from a drone. Just as disconcerting was the fact that IS put up leaflets in a neighborhood telling people to leave otherwise they would be considered targets and be killed. Many IS members slipped into the civilian population of the city to hide, while others were a stay behind force to sow mischief. The ISF is trying to hunt them down, but there are increasing complaints about their heavy handedness, which might turn the population against them. At the same time, IS threats and intimidation are working towards the same goal. This could lead to a very dangerous and unstable situation once all of Mosul is taken.
The Golden Division, which did most of the heavy fighting in east Mosul, has not entered the fray yet, but they are about to. General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi from the Division said his forces would join the battle soon. Columns of their vehicles have been seen moving from the south. Beforehand, all of the news was of them launching a frontal assault across the Tigris River. IS spent a lot of time and effort to build up its defenses along the riverbank as a result. This was all part of a psychological campaign to deceive the militants and put their fighters along the Tigris when the new front was coming from the south.
To add to the psychological operations the Iraqi air force dropped thousands of letters from Iraqis over west Mosul. The ISF has done this before. It’s meant to bolster the morale of the population, which are suffering major shortages. At the same time, it undermines the control of IS over the people.
Save the Children had people call their relatives who were in west Mosul. One said his family had no food or water. They were afraid that starvation would set upon the city during the fighting. Some people were going door to door begging for food they were so desperate. Another said there was no health care available. One person said their family members had tried to escape, but were caught and executed with 20 others. Just getting in contact with family has become harder as IS has confiscated phones and killed people found with them.
Various small armed groups have been fighting the militants for months now inside Mosul. On February 22 Kaitab al-Mosul said they shot and killed two senior IS members and ambushed a patrol. These organizations do not pose a military threat to the Islamic State’s control, but they undermine their authority and show that not everyone in the city was a sympathizer as some have argued.
Al-Aalem, “Fourth day of military operations in West Mosul: The destruction of three booby-trapping facilities and killed 20 Daash,” 2/22/17
AIN, “Urgent Rapid Reaction Division frees Ghazlani camp south of Mosul,” 2/21/17
Bas News, “Mosul: Iraqi Troops Storm Biggest Military Camp in North,” 2/20/17
BBC, “Mosul offensive now focused on city’s airport,” 2/22/17
Hussein, Sara and Mojon, Jean-Marc, “Iraq forces poised for Mosul airport assault,” Agence France Presse, 2/22/17
Iraq News Network, “Counter Terrorism Forces: Our troops would participate in the liberation of West Mosul very soon,” 2/22/17
Iraq Oil Report, “Inside Mosul: Feb. 22, 2017,” 2/22/17
Al Maalomah, "Popular crowd destroyed two Daesh car bombs on the right side of Mosul," 2/22/17
MacDiarmid, Campbell, “Iraqi police snipers take aim at Mosul ahead of key airport offensive,” Telegraph, 2/21/17
Al Mada, “Mayor of Mosul: Daesh around the airport and the ruins of Camp
Mostafa, Mohamed, "Islamic State drone kills 5 civilians, 5 militants arrested in eastern Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/22/17
- "Mobilization units set on operations to clear western Mosul road from IS," Iraqi News, 2/1/17
- “UPDATED: Iraqi forces move towards Mosul airport, biggest mass grave found,” Iraqi News, 2/22/17
- "UPDATED: PMUs launch new phase of offensives on western Mosul's Tal Afar," Iraqi News, 2/22/17
New Sabah, “The joint forces stormed Camp Ghazlani south of Mosul after securing strategic areas,” 2/22/17
Rudaw, “IPDs from around west Mosul urge army’s advance, saying ISIS has left,” 2/22/17
Save the Children, “Stay or flee? Families trapped in Mosul face a brutal choice,” 2/22/17
Shafaaq News, "Cameraman injured while covering battles west of Mosul," 2/22/17
- “Urgent.. begin security operation attacking outposts on the northern areas of the Baghdad road,” 2/23/17
Starr, Barbara, "US troops wounded on the front lines in Mosul," CNN, 2/22/17
Al Sumaria, “Air Force dropped thousands of message from children on West Mosul,” 2/22/17
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
As happens too many times Iraqi propaganda got ahead of what was happening on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State. Yesterday the Federal Police announced that they and the Rapid Reaction Division had taken the town of Abu Saif, which is just outside the southern tip of Mosul. In fact, fighting continued there into the next day February 21 as insurgents were hiding in tunnels, before it was declared freed once again, although the Islamic State still held a cement factory just outside of town. The two police units were consolidating their position around Abu Saif building berms to protect against car bombs. By the end of the day, the police claimed they had taken the Ghazlani army base, reached the outskirts of the airport, and IS had abandoned it due to Iraqi artillery fire. These may all be exaggerations by the Iraqi forces (ISF) as well. Earlier the police said they would take the town of Yarmouk next to Abu Saif and then head towards Ghazlani and the airport.
|(Medecins Sans Frontieres)|
Although there were not many IS fighters in the area they were putting up a defense. Fighting in and around Abu Saif killed 8 police, and wounded more. IS also fired rockets upon Hamam al-Alil, which is a staging area for the ISF that wounded 2 soldiers. The ISF claimed they destroyed 14 car bombs and killed 14 suicide bombers turning back these assaults. Those types of figures are always open to inflation as well.
Different sections of west Mosul are coming under Iraqi artillery fire as well. That was blamed for killing five civilians. There have likely been many more casualties, but because these areas are under IS control they are not getting reported.
What is also getting sporadic reporting now that the assault upon west Mosul underway is the constant IS mortar, rocket, and drone attacks upon liberated east Mosul. During the day drones and rockets on eight neighborhoods killed 17 and injured another 17. Part of the reason for the decline in coverage is the shift towards the new operation. Another is the fact that the Iraqi government has told the media not to cover negative news during the war, and might be doing that again with this situation.
In the west the Islamic State continued to throw itself against the Hashd defenses in the Tal Afar district. The open territory means these attempts are easily defeated. IS lives for the offensive however, even when it is in dire straights like the present, and will not give up on these types of suicide missions as a result.
The Hashd also claimed it had pictures of a U.S. plan dropping arms and ammunition to the insurgents in the Tal Afar area. They have also said that the Americans are smuggling IS leaders out of Ninewa to safe areas. This has been a constant theme of pro-Iranian Hashd groups since 2014. They get it from their benefactors in Tehran who make similar statements. Both are aiming to undermine Washington as it has re-entered Iraq to help in the war, and are playing upon the plethora of conspiracy theories that are popular throughout the country.
Because of this type of criticism a commander from the Federal Police General Raed Jawadat told the press there were no foreign troops involved in the liberation of Mosul. He acknowledged the U.S. led coalition was providing air support, but that was it. The day before Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s office had to issue a similar statement. This came after several foreign papers noted that U.S. and British Special Forces were right at the front with the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division. Baghdad has had to play down this role to try to fend off charges from pro-Iranian elements in Iraq that the Americans are undermining the country with stories like the one above.
The United Nations has finally adjusted its predictions for displacement from the new operation. Originally they were warning of the possibility of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing west Mosul. Now they have lowered that to up to 250,000. Even that might be a high figure given that only 200,000 have left their homes in all of Ninewa since fighting started in October 2016. The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is planning on building a camp at Hamam al-Alil south of Mosul to take in the newly displaced. Until then the Iraqi government plans on transporting people to the camps already built east of the city.
The United Nations was also noting the continued difficulties in east Mosul and for those still displaced. It was concerned with the arbitrary arrests made by the ISF of suspected IS sympathizers at camps. The news of the lack of services, IS attacks, and arrests of men and boys in east Mosul has stopped some families from returning there. The army for instance, closed down the Karama neighborhood and took all the military aged males to a school and searched them looking for weapons and evidence of being IS members or sympathizers. There are more people currently going back to the city however, mostly to Intisar, Mithaq, Sumer and Gogjali, the last of which is just outside of Mosul. Those areas that were last to be freed, which were along the Tigris River and in the northeast are facing high levels of poverty and a severe lack of food. Once markets are re-opened and supplies start flowing into those areas they will recover. People don’t have much money and there are no jobs however. Many of those going back say they want to find work, secure their property and try to collect their pensions. There is a constant flow of people in and out of the city. More people are doing the latter. While many want to rebuild their lives, things are far from easy doing so. People have also started complaining about the heavy handedness of the security forces, and the lack of government support. Those are likely to increase as more time passes as the ISF is hunting down IS members and Baghdad has no money for reconstruction.
Al Aalem, “Sleeper cells..hidden enemy of the security forces in eastern Mosul,” 2/21/17
Agence France Presse, “Iraq forces press assault on ISIS south of Mosul,” 2/21/17
AIN, "Urgent Rapid Reaction Division frees Ghazlani camp south of Mosul," 2/21/17
Anadolu Agency, "Daesh drone attacks kill 9 in Iraq's eastern Mosul," 2/21/17
ARA News, “Iraqi forces attack ISIS-held Mosul airport,” 2/21/17
Atassi, Basma, Beech, Samantha and Yan, Holly, "Battle for Mosul: Iraqi forces take key village near airport from ISIS," CNN, 2/20/17
Bas News, "Retaking Mosul Airport 'Matter of Hours': Commander," 2/21/17
BBC, “Mosul offensive: Iraqi army seizes key town of Abu Saif,” 2/21/17
Buratha News, "The martyrdom and wounding of four civilians in Daesh bombing in northern Mosul," 2/21/17
Coles, Isabel and Chmaytelli, Maher, “Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State set to storm airport, clear way to western Mosul,” Reuters, 2/21/17
Al Forat, “Federal Police chief: No involvement of foreign forces in the liberation of West Mosul,” 2/21/17
- "Popular Crowd killed 9 Daash and detonated two car bombs west of Tal Afar," 2/21/17
George, Susannah and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi forces on Mosul hilltop gird for fierce fight ahead,” Associated Press, 2/21/17
Iraq Oil Report, "Inside Mosul: Feb. 21, 2017," 2/21/17
Lister, Tim, “Taking western Mosul from ISIS: Five key questions,” CNN, 2/21/17
Al Maalomah, “Pictures: US aircraft lowered 6 people and materials over Tal Afar which is controlled by Daesh,” 2/21/17
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraqi forces reach vicinity of Mosul airport,” Iraqi News, 2/21/17
- "Islamic State drones, rockets kill 11 civilians, including school kids, in eastern Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/21/17
- "ISIS reopens Oil City, Iraqi militias kill 11 fighters in western Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/21/17
- “UPDATED: Islamic State withdraw from Mosul Airport: police chief,” Iraqi News, 2/21/17
New Sabah, “Joint forces liberated Abu Saif and kill 90 Daesh members western Mosul,” 2/21/17
Rudaw, “Iraqi forces consolidate their position in preparation for Mosul airport offensive,” 2/21/17
Shafaaq News, “Popular Crowd closes another escape route for Daesh leaders to Syria,” 2/21/17
Al Sumaria, "Federal Police: we completed the clearing of Abu Saif and paved the way to freeing the Mosul airport," 2/21/17
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “As new Mosul offensive unfolds, sheltering the displaced comes back into focus,” 2/21/17
- “Mosul Weekly Protection Update, 11-17 February 2017,” 2/17/17
World Food Programme, “Iraq – mVAM Bulletin #25: February 2017; Lack of incomes cited as causing food insecurity in newly liberated areas of Mosul,” 2/21/17
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
|(Institute for the Study of War)|
The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued their advance on the second day of the new campaign for Mosul. Six villages were freed. That included Abu Saif, which is the high ground overlooking part of south Mosul. Another was Sahaji, which cut the road from Mosul to Tal Afar. The Federal Police and Rapid Response Division also began attacking the Ghazlani army base, which is next to the Mosul airport. The government’s media cell announced that this marked the end of the first stage of operations. Next will be taking the airport and then moving into the city itself.
The ISF are going to open another front eventually with a crossing of the Tigris River led by the Golden Division. They are staging in the Palestine and Yarimjah neighborhoods in the southern tip of the eastern half of the city. They will likely connect with the police forces coming from the south. Much of the talk before the campaign re-started was of this river crossing across the Tigris. That led to the Islamic State fortifying riverbank. That now appears to have been a feint to distract the militants from where the real attack would come from, which is in the south.
The official line from the Iraqi political and military leadership is that the Islamic State is already defeated, and west Mosul will be easier than the east. New Sabah, the government’s paper, for instance, had another story of IS fighters fleeing the city. Now that the battle has actually begun, ground commanders are beginning to dissent. They told both Reuters and CNN that they expect the coming fight for the city to be difficult. The main problem is the narrow streets and packed buildings. The roads are too small for tanks and armored fighting vehicles to navigate. The closeness of the buildings will also make it more difficult to call in artillery or air strikes for fear of collateral damage. The Islamic State has also laid down its usual IED fields and booby traps, and is building berms to block off streets to try to limit the Iraqi forces’ movement through the city. It will also deploy suicide and car bombs just as it did in the east. The terrain will make it a more difficult fight, but in the end IS’s defenses will be broken and the city will eventually be taken.
U.S. and British Special Forces are right at the front with the ISF. British Special Air Service, American Green Berets and the Delta Force were all reported to be working with the Iraqis. The U.S. commander in Iraq General Stephen Townsend said that they were close to the battle lines. This is part of the Trump administration’s new policy to loosen the rules of engagement. News reports about these advisers led Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s office to admit their presence but deny that they were taking part in any of the fighting. The premier is pro-Western, but his main opponents are within his own Dawa Party and part of the Hashd who are aligned with Iran. They are constantly complaining about the U.S. led Coalition’s presence, which was why Abadi’s office had to issue such a statement.
Aid groups are still afraid of a pending humanitarian crisis from the new battle. More camps and tents are being built as a result. These organizations are trying to prepare for three possible scenarios from the attack on west Mosul. One is a mass displacement of up to 400,000 people. Another is a long siege that could trap the civilians inside the city, which is already suffering massive shortages of food, fuel, electricity and water. The third is people leaving in an orderly fashion. What’s more likely is that most of the population stays inside the city just as they did in the east with a few thousand fleeing. The United Nations has consistently overestimated the displacement that would occur from this campaign. Originally it warned of up to one million people leaving their homes. Only around 200,000 left all of Ninewa, and now more people are returning.
The Daily Beast had an article on the difficulty of rebuilding the police force in Mosul. Before 2014 when the city fell there were 28,000 officers in the city. There were also army units to help with security. Today there are only 6,000 police. The U.S. Coalition is trying to help with the situation by training an entirely new police force. That is a long process however. In the meantime the city is being secured by a hodgepodge of army, police, Federal Police, Hashd, and local neighborhood and tribal forces. While the population is trying to help them by providing information on IS suspects the different forces do not cooperate, and actively compete with each other leading to gaps in security, which the insurgents are sure to exploit. If the militants continue with their bombings and escalate to assassinations and rebuilding their criminal activities once business returns less people will likely be willing to inform on them. That could devolve into the pre-2014 situation when IS was like a mafia controlling large swaths of the city.
As more time passes disputes over the future of Ninewa become more public. A group of pro-Kurdish sheikhs held a press conference calling for Kurdish President Massoud Barzani to free the rest of the province rather than have the Hashd do it. At the same time, a Hashd commander said that ex-Governor Atheel Nujafi’s Ninewa Guards should not be given control of any liberated areas. There are a number of Arab tribes in the governorate that Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has attempted to co-opt over the years to support its goals of annexing the disputed areas. Pro-Iranian Hashd are also opposed to the Nujafi’s returning to power because they are aligned with the KDP. These arguments are likely to escalate.
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AIN, “Summary of today’s operation to free West Mosul,” 2/20/17
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Bas News, “Mosul: Iraqi Troops Storm Biggest Military Camp in North,” 2/20/17
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Al Sumaria, "Ninewa We Are Coming declares Al Zakh village freed west of Mosul," 2/20/17
- “Popular crowd announced free village West of Mosul and killed eight Daesh members,” 2/20/17
Monday, February 20, 2017
On the morning of February 19 Prime Minister Haider Abadi went on state television to announce the start of the operation to take west Mosul. The day before the Iraqi air force dropped flyers over the city telling people their liberation as coming. The Federal Police also went on the offensive to seize four villages to secure their jump off spots for the new campaign. There was just under a month gap between freeing east Mosul and attacking the west. That time was necessary to rearm and reposition forces.
The first stage of the new operation has three main goals. One is for the Federal Police to take Abu Saif, which is the high ground overlooking south Mosul. The Rapid Response Division is heading for the Ghazlani military base, which is next to the Mosul airport in the southern section of the city. Their ultimate goal is to seize the airport itself. The Islamic State has tried to destroy the facilities there so they cannot be used. Once it is secured army engineers, likely with U.S. coalition support, are going to move in and try to make repairs as quickly as possible to the runways to allow them to be used to fly in supplies for the battle. All together these would give the ISF a vantage point over the entire southern section of the city, as well as staging areas for moving forward. A third thrust is being made by the army’s 9th Division and the Hashd’s Al-Abbas Division towards the southwestern section of Mosul. At a later time, the Golden Division and other units are expected to cross the Tigris River using pontoon bridges provided by the Americans. Some of those have been sent to the Palestine neighborhood in southern Mosul. That would make the militants fight on two fronts the south and the east, stretching their manpower and resources.
The Iraqi forces (ISF) made some quick gains on the first day. The attack began with a barrage on IS positions. The Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division set off and captured Lazaaqah and the villages around it. The town is important because it contains the power station that provides electricity for all of west Mosul. Unfortunately the insurgents blew up power towers and transmission lines as they retreated. The 9th Division moved towards Ghazlani, and a third thrust of army forces and the Hashd’s Al-Abbas Division, which is loyal to Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, headed for Abu Saif. Iraqi attack helicopters were overhead providing support. By nightfall the police forces had freed 8 villages, the 9th Division 7, and the Hashd and army 4 more. The ISF also claimed to have destroyed 19 car bombs in the process.
The U.S. led Coalition has stepped up its presence as well. U.S. Special Forces were part of the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division column. There has also been more airstrikes. They have gone from 12-20 per day up to 30-50. A U.S. pilot told the press that at any one time there were up to 50 aircraft flying over the battlefield. Most of those are drones that are looking for targets. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Washington was behind the new effort, as can be seen by the increased support the Coalition is providing.
The inclusion of the Al Abbas Division is a change in plans for the Mosul campaign. At the start, Premier Abadi said that the Hashd would not enter the city to try to allay the public fear of abuses. He went back on that promise after east Mosul was freed. There were not enough forces to hold that half of the city as well as move on the west so a Shabak Hashd unit was moved in. Now the Abbas Division is playing a major combat role as well, again because more forces were needed. The Ninewa council initially objected to their role, but changed their view. Vice President Osama Nujafi who is from the province still had reservations, saying the Hashd should stay to the west of the city in the Tal Afar district. Choosing the Al Abbas Division was probably easy for Baghdad. It follows Ayatollah Sistani, not Iran, has worked closely with the Iraqi army and police before, and is likely to be integrated into the ISF sometime in the future. That made them more acceptable to the Ninewa government. Nujafi on the other hand does not want outside forces in Mosul because it could threaten his family’s plans to re-establish their position there.
Iraqi propaganda continued to put out stories about the poor condition of the Islamic State in west Mosul. There was another report that the group was evacuating their families not only out of southern Mosul, but out of the city overall towards Syria. Similar news has been spread since the start of the Mosul campaign in October. Most of the IS leadership and their relatives have probably been out of the city for months now. Low-level members may not have had the ability to leave until now because of their superiors.
The insurgents were also facing continued resistance. IS accused people in west Mosul of being traitors for not answering their call to arms. The group has been forcibly drafting fighting aged men into its forces, but apparently few of them are reporting for duty. Three IS facilities were set on fire, and some of its patrols were also attacked. Iraqi flags were raised over three buildings in the Old City section of Mosul. IS conducted raids to try to find the culprits. For over a year now small groups of resistance fighters have been carrying out hit and run attacks upon the Islamic State in Mosul. These never posed a threat to the organization, but they showed that people were willing to confront the group, and were not all supporters of the Islamists as some people claimed.
Aid groups continued to warn of a humanitarian crisis emerging out of the new battle. The United Nations said that its resources were stretched trying to handle all the people needing assistance made worse by the fact that it has never gotten the funding that it has asked for. The U.N. is also afraid of a mass exodus out of west Mosul during the fighting. Save the Children’s Iraq director didn’t think that would happen for now, as people are afraid to leave because of threats from the insurgents. More importantly, many people stayed within east Mosul when the government assaulted it rather then leaving for camps. The same trend is likely to repeat itself now.
There were more Islamic State attacks on east Mosul. A suicide bomber hit the restaurant in the Zuhur neighborhood that was attacked in the same fashion on February 10. This time 2 people were killed and 9 were wounded. Another suicide bomber set off his device at a checkpoint to a market in Nabi Younis leaving 5 dead and 2 injured. Last, a drone left four wounded in Wahda. IS has done its best to make east Mosul feel like a besieged city since it was liberated in the middle of January. There are daily mortar, rocket and drone strikes, and IS sleeper cells and infiltrators have been able to set off suicide and car bombs as well. There were likely more incidents that were not reported.
The Guardian reported on videos released on social media of ISF and Hashd units abusing IS members. One video showed Federal Police beating four men, and then executing three of them. In two others prisoners were abused and then told to imitate animals. In another a man is being held down on the floor and viewers were asked what to do with him. Most called for his death. The United Nations demanded that the government investigate these videos. Baghdad said it would, but denigrated them calling them a “fabrication.” The Iraqi forces have a long history of abuse and torture of not only Islamic State fighters, but also common criminals dating back to the Baath days and before. They were never ended after 2003. The difference now is that the Iraqi forces brag about their misdeeds by posting them on social media. At the same time, the government cannot be expected to do anything about it because it would hurt their image, and they believe the morale of the country. In turn it exerts benign neglect whenever it comes up. Hence an investigation was announced, but nothing will come of it. In fact, the authorities often cover up any crimes that take place.
Reuters reported on the divisions within Ninewa that the Islamic State has brought about. In the town of Rfaila 45 kilometers/30 miles south of Mosul residents were going after not only IS sympathizers but their remains. People were throwing grenades at the homes of people they accused of helping the militants to try to force them to leave. At the same time, they were blowing up homes of IS members and even digging up the graves of some to desecrate their remains. Many provinces are choosing collective punishment to deal with these people after areas are freed by either not allowing them in, or isolating them in camps. With no effort at reconciliation combined with Iraq’s culture of revenge and maintaining family honor when people are killed these hatreds will continue for years.
Finally, on a positive note, the Oil Ministry announced that one more oil fire in Qayara was extinguished. IS set the oil field on fire there when it was forced to retreat. There are still four wells ablaze. These have created an environmental disaster in the area spewing toxic fumes and darkening the sky for months now.
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