Battle to liberate Mosul begins
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. –