IS shows no sign of weakening as Mosul war enters 3rd month
Nearly 100,000 fled city for safety, food, medical help
Islamic State fighters have stepped up counterattacks on Iraqi forces in Mosul amid bad weather as the US-backed offensive to capture their last major city stronghold in Iraq enters its third month. With cloudy skies hampering coalition air surveillance, the militants carried out attacks in three districts of eastern Mosul, Al-Quds, Ta’mim and Al-Nur, over the past four days, residents and security officials said yesterday. “We heard clashes and explosions and then somebody shouting on the loudspeaker of the mosque ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, the Islamic State is staying’,” said a Ta’mim resident.
The campaign that started on Oct. 17 has turned into the biggest battle in Iraq since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. The humanitarian situation of the besieged population is causing alarm amid reports of food, water and fuel shortages, while the fighting is making access to hospitals difficult.
Nearly 100,000 people have fled the city, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish fighters and Iranian-backed Shi’ite volunteers are taking part in the offensive. The latter are attacking the militants supply lines in a remote and semi-desert area west of Mosul to avoid fanning sectarian tensions with the city’s Sunni population. The Iraqi military estimate the number of militants in the city at 5,000 to 6,000. They are dug in amid the city’s remaining population of about one million, moving through tunnels and using suicide car bombs, sharpshooters and mortar fire to slow the advance of the Iraqi forces.
A mainly western coalition is providing air and ground support to the offensive, led by the US with more than 5,000 troops deployed in Iraq. The fall of Mosul would mark the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni group in the Iraqi half of the caliphate that also extends over parts of Syria.
The city is by far the largest seized when they overran about a third of Iraq in 2014 and is the place where their leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, declared his theocratic dictatorship.
At the current pace of advance, the offensive is likely to extend into next year, beyond the initial forecast of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi who pledged to take the city in 2016. The US-trained Counter Terrorism Service, which is spearheading the fighting inside the city, has so far taken about half of its eastern side. Mosul is divided in two parts by the Tigris River that runs through its centre.
Four of the city’s five bridges have been destroyed to hamper the movement of the militants and their ability to bring car bombs and weapons from the western side. The fifth was also hit, but only at its edges, only allowing pedestrians to cross. Iraqi forces are holding off using field artillery and air bombardments to avoid civilian casualties, hoping to wear down the militants’ resistance, depleting their numbers and their stock of car-bombs, two analysts in Baghdad said. “It is a matter of time before Daesh are defeated inside Mosul,” said Ihsan Al-Shammari, who heads the Iraqi Centre for Political Thought think-tank. — Reuters