Over the weekend, the battle to retake Mosul from the ISIS control by Iraqi government forces with allied militias, including the Iraqi Kurdistan, US and international coalition, officially started.
This was the largest deployment of Iraqi forces since the 2003 invasion by the US and coalition forces.
In the opening attack, 23 villages and hamlets were retaken by Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Although both Iraqi and Kurdish force leaders claimed that their early gains had exceeded expectations, they have a long way to go.
Apparently, the takeover of some of these areas was short-lived.
“It’s not good at all,” said a man from the nearby town of Adla to The Guardian. “The Iraqi army arrived yesterday and took the town, and today Isis came back and the army ran away. We weren’t expecting this.”
Other locals living in the area expressed similar sentiments. “This is going to take a long time. These guys are mostly Iraqis and they will not give up. People on this side of the river cannot run away to Anbar. They have to fight,” said a local man referring to the river Tigris, which splits Mosul roughly in two to The Guardian.
So why the fear? Well as we know first-hand, ISIS isn’t afraid to play dirty.
“Islamic State militants quickly showed that they were not going to abandon the villages without a fight: They unleashed at least five suicide vehicle bombs — the militant force’s take on precision-guided weapons. Near the village of Badana, one vehicle packed with explosives streaked toward the Kurdish positions. A blast and a billowing plume of white smoke proclaimed its fate: Either a ground-fired missile or airstrike had abruptly halted the suicide run, short of its target,” writes the New York Times.
“Kurdish commanders insisted that they were satisfied by the day’s advance, which came in three main columns. Even so, fewer than half of the 10 or so villages they had encircled had been fully cleared, in painstaking and potentially dangerous operations to ensure that no Islamic State fighters were hiding in the settlements. And on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said the advance had halted indefinitely. The monumental challenge that lies ahead was becoming clear. After all, the ultimate objective of the combined assault is not to clear largely depopulated villages, but to reclaim a city of more than a million people that is defended by as many as 4,500 Islamic State fighters. In preparation, the militants have filled trenches with oil, built tunnels and planted copious improvised bombs along the roads to the city and on the streets within it.”
Not only are Iraqi and Kurds forces going to constantly lose ground they just took over, but there are up to 1.5 million innocent civilians currently living in the city that are in danger during this conquest
“Then there is the bulk of the population, now trapped in Mosul, who will be used as human shields by ISIS. By clinging tightly to the population, ISIS can virtually cancel out coalition air power advantages,” writes CNN. “Facing them will be the Iraqi Army: not former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s rabble, who ran away without firing a shot in defense of Mosul in June 2014, gifting the most modern weapons and equipment to both ISIS and Kurds. It is now a (pulled together all too quickly) force revamped with US and UK coalition trainers — and with modern Russian weapons and armor.”
If the city is retaken, what are the motives of the parties assisting the Iraqi government? Well, chaos is bound to ensue and this could backfire for the Iraqi government. Their people could feel abandoned and this is what many groups are hoping for.
“The problem is, ISIS probably wants exactly that to happen. It is what they are praying for. The popular militias do, also,” writes CNN. “A descent into further conflict would also suit the Turks and their Kurdish proxies, who have a score to settle. The Iranians would like to see this challenge to their influences across Iraq destroyed. The Syrians would like to see rebellious Sunnis taught a lesson, (their Russian allies just want them to be happy) and the Iraqi Army wants to restore its pride.”