Iraqi forces to cut off Mosul from Syria
IRAQI paramilitary forces launched an operation to cut the Islamic State group’s supply lines between its Mosul bastion and neighbouring Syria, opening a new front in the nearly twoweek-old offensive.
Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary umbrella organisation dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias, have largely been on the sidelines since the launch of the operation to retake Mosul.
But on October 29, they began a push on the town of Tal Afar on the western approach, the only side where ground forces, which have advanced from the north, east and south, are not yet deployed.
“The operation aims to cut supplies between Mosul and Raqa and tighten the siege of [the IS] in Mosul and liberate Tal Afar,” Hashed spokesperson Ahmed al-Assadi told AFP, referring to IS’ main stronghold in Syria.
Mr Assadi said the operation was launched from the Sin al-Dhaban area south of Mosul and aimed to retake the towns of Hatra and Tal Abta as well as Tal Afar.
The drive toward Tal Afar could bring the fighting perilously close to the ancient city of Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has already been vandalised by the IS.
Though it was not mentioned by name, the operation may also pass near the ruins of Nimrud, another archaeological site that has previously been attacked by the IS.
The involvement of Shiite militias in the Mosul operation has been a source of contention, although some of the Hashed’s top commanders insist that do not plan to enter the largely Sunni city.
Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arab politicians have opposed their involvement, as has Turkey which has a military presence east of Mosul, despite repeated demands by Baghdad for the forces to be withdrawn.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Shiite militias against attacking Turkmen residents of Tal Afar.
“If the Hashed al-Shaabi sow terror there, then our response will be different,” Mr Erdogan said, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency,
without specifying what measures would be taken.
Relations between the Hashed and the US-led coalition fighting IS are also tense, but the paramilitaries enjoy widespread support among members of Iraq’s Shiite majority.
More than 17,500 people have fled their homes toward government-held areas since the Mosul operation began, the International Organisation for Migration said on October 29.
Numbers are expected to soar as Iraqi forces close in.