Bat­tle to lib­er­ate Mo­sul be­gins

The Myanmar Times - - World -

IRAQI forces launched an of­fen­sive yes­ter­day to re­take Mo­sul and deal a death blow to the Is­lamic State group’s “caliphate”, in the city where it was de­clared two years ago.

Some 30,000 fed­eral forces are lead­ing the of­fen­sive, backed by a 60-na­tion US-led coali­tion, in what is ex­pected to be a long and dif­fi­cult as­sault on the IS’s last ma­jor Iraqi strong­hold.

The Pen­tagon de­scribed the lon­gawaited op­er­a­tion as a “de­ci­sive mo­ment” in the fight against the IS but the US-led coali­tion’s top com­man­der warned it could last weeks or more.

The be­gin­ning of the as­sault also saw aid groups voice fears for the hun­dreds of thou­sands of civil­ians re­main­ing in the city, with the IS ex­pected to use them as hu­man shields.

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider alAbadi an­nounced the start of the as­sault in a tele­vised ad­dress in the early hours yes­ter­day.

“To­day I de­clare the start of th­ese vic­to­ri­ous op­er­a­tions to free you from the vi­o­lence and ter­ror­ism of Daesh [IS],” Mr Abadi said.

The IS seized con­trol of large parts of Iraq and neigh­bour­ing Syria in mid2014, declar­ing a cross-bor­der “caliphate” and com­mit­ting wide­spread atroc­i­ties.

But the ji­hadists have suf­fered a string of ter­ri­to­rial de­feats this year in both coun­tries, and the re­tak­ing of Mo­sul would all but end the group’s pres­ence in Iraq as a land-hold­ing force.

Iraqi forces have been clos­ing in on Mo­sul in re­cent weeks but the bat­tle launched yes­ter­day could be the tough­est yet.

The ji­hadists are vastly out­num­bered, with an es­ti­mated 3000 to 4500 thought to be in the city and sur­round­ing area.

But they have had months to pre­pare and will seek to use hit-and-run tac­tics, am­bushes, snipers, bombs, berms and trenches to slow down and bleed Iraqi forces.

Around 4000 Kur­dish pesh­merga took part in a push to re­claim vil­lages once in­hab­ited by mem­bers of the Chris­tian and Kakai mi­nori­ties, a state­ment said.

But Mr Abadi stressed that only Iraqi po­lice and army would en­ter the city proper.

“The force lead­ing lib­er­a­tion op­er­a­tions is the brave Iraqi army with the na­tional po­lice and they are the ones that will en­ter Mo­sul, not oth­ers,” he said.

Re­sent­ment among Mo­sul’s Sunni ma­jor­ity against Shi­ite-dom­i­nated se­cu­rity forces was one of the rea­sons the IS faced so lit­tle re­sis­tance when it swept into the city.

Tehran-backed Shi­ite mili­tia groups have been ac­cused of se­ri­ous abuses against Sunni civil­ians dur­ing op­er­a­tions to re­take ar­eas from the IS group.

Iraqi forces ad­vanc­ing on mul­ti­ple fronts are some dis­tance from Mo­sul and are ex­pected to even­tu­ally take up po­si­tions on the edge of the city and lay siege to it be­fore breach­ing its bound­aries and di­rectly en­gag­ing diehard ji­hadists.

“This op­er­a­tion to re­gain con­trol of Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city will likely con­tinue for weeks, pos­si­bly longer,” said Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Stephen Townsend, com­man­der of the US-led coali­tion bat­tling the ji­hadist group.

“This is a de­ci­sive mo­ment in the cam­paign to de­liver ISIL a last­ing de­feat,” US Sec­re­tary of De­fence Ash Carter said, us­ing an al­ter­na­tive acro­nym for the ji­hadist group.

IS once con­trolled more than onethird of Iraq’s ter­ri­tory but its self­pro­claimed “state” has been shrink­ing steadily for more than a year. It is also los­ing ground in Syria.

A clear vic­tory in Mo­sul would go some way to­ward restor­ing the con­fi­dence and cred­i­bil­ity of the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces. –

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