Qayyarah: From IS control to battle hub
Hundreds of forces from 60-nation coalition deployed here
QAYYARAH: Just months after its recapture from the Islamic State group, the sprawling Qayyarah base in north Iraq has become a hub for operations to retake Mosul from the jihadists. Iraq this week announced the start of operations to retake Mosul, its last city held by IS, and security forces are fighting their way toward it from the north, east and south. Iraqi police and soldiers, and hundreds of forces from the US-led coalition against IS are also deployed here, carrying out artillery strikes against the jihadists and working to rebuild the base.
“It is an area for mobilizing the units taking part in liberating the city of Mosul and the villages... surrounding it,” Staff Brigadier General Qusay Kadhim Hamid, a senior commander in the interior ministry’s elite rapid response forces, said of the base. Lieutenant General Raed Tawfiq Jawdat, commander of the federal police, said it is the most important base for supplying Iraqi forces that are advancing toward Mosul from the south.
There are at least 7,000 forces deployed in Iraq as part of a 60-nation coalition assisting the war against IS in Iraq and Syria. At least half of them are Americans. The base is surrounded by a massive dirt berm, with tanks and other armored vehicles positioned inside. Most of the soldiers and police on the base are housed in tents that are coated with the powdery dust that covers the ground in the base and the desert beyond. IS jihadists did their best to deny Iraqi forces use of the base before they lost it in July, destroying buildings, toppling concrete walls, and disabling the runway.
‘A lot of damage’
“We saw there was a lot of damage. Daesh did a lot of deliberate damage to try to make the base as (unuseable) as possible,” Major Chris Parker, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, told AFP at Qayyarah, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group. The runway “was completely unuseable when we came in,” with trenches dug in it and bombs placed in the area, Parker said. Evidence of further destruction is also visible from the base, where a huge cloud of smoke rising from oil wells set alight by IS is an ever-present feature of the horizon. The smoke, which IS sought to use as cover from air strikes, sometimes blows over the base itself, blackening the sky like an approaching storm.
Coalition and Iraqi forces have been working to rebuild Qayyarah, and “we’ve seen the base develop very quickly,” Parker said. The US air force has finished repairing the runway, which will eventually allow supplies to be flown in by cargo planes as well as arriving on the ground, though it is not yet open for use, he said. Already, “there’s a lot of logistical support coming out of here” for the Mosul operation, Parker said. There is also “a lot of fire support. So Qayyarah is very important to the Mosul liberation,” battle hub said.
American and French artillery is deployed at the base, carrying out strikes against IS and also firing illumination and smoke rounds in support of Iraqi troops. American HIMARS rocket launchers can hit IS far to the north, with a range that extends to the city of Mosul. The HIMARS position is marked by a spraypainted sign reading “Rocket City,” with the rusty tails of old bombs or rockets stuck in the ground in front. Hulking Paladin mobile artillery pieces are stationed nearby, with tents of camouflage netting providing shelter for the soldiers who man them. While the base is relatively safe, IS has targeted it with artillery before. But the battle is moving farther away from Qayyarah as Iraqi troops close in on Mosul. — AFP
QAYYARAH: An Iraqi man walks as smokes billows in the distance. — AFP