Islamic State loses ground as forces close on Mosul
Iraqi and Kurdish forces closing in on Mosul said yesterday they had secured 20 villages on the outskirts of the city in the first day of an operation to retake what is Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.
With around 1.5 million people still living in Mosul, the International Organisation for Migration said it was preparing gas masks in case of chemical attack by the jihadists, who used such weapons previously against Iraqi Kurdish forces.
Tens of thousands of civilians could be forcibly expelled, trapped between fighting lines or used as human shields, said the IOM, one of many aid organisations to sound the alarm.
The fall of Mosul would signal the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni jihadists in Iraq but could also lead to land grabs and sectarian bloodletting between groups which fought one another after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
For US President Barack Obama, the campaign is a calculated risk, with US officials acknowledging that there is no clear plan for how the region around Mosul will be governed once Islamic State is expelled.
The Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces from autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan began moving towards the city at dawn on Monday.
Tanks move past soldiers in military fatigues as the sun begins to set east of Mosul, where the Iraqi government launched an offensive against ISIS on Monday