As I wrote on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the launch of a full-blown military operation to retake Mosul – the second largest city in Iraq that has been under ISIS control for more than two years.
The massive operation began on Sunday. Early reports were disappointing, and many of the first towns to be cleared were retaken by ISIS in less than two days.
Thursday, CNN reported “intense fighting” and “sweeping gains,” including the death of 200 ISIS fighters. PM Abadi confirmed the operation was going quicker than expected, but in reality the Iraqi-led coalition hasn’t accomplished much.
The coalition, which stands against roughly 5,000 ISIS fighters, is made of 54,000 Iraqi security forces, 40,000 Peshmerga fighters, 14,000 paramilitaries, and about 500 US troops.
Despite the obvious advantage in numbers, a Peshmerga general told CNN that the fight could take as long as two months. Brig. General Sirwan Barzani said it could take two weeks just to enter the city.
ISIS may be sorely outnumbered, but they have had years to set up defenses in and around Mosul. The coalition will likely face booby traps, suicide bombs, car bombs, and maybe even chemical weapons in addition to the extensive network of tunnels already discovered.
PB predicted Iraq would fail without reinforcements; and as we wrote Wednesday, more problems may arise even if the coalition retakes the city.
A protracted battle could easily turn into a bloodbath for civilians.
Thousands of Europeans have moved to Syria or Iraq during the past two years to join ISIS. If the terrorist group is defeated at Mosul, analysts worry those individuals will return home and start launching attacks in Europe.
“The retaking of the Islamic State’s northern Iraq stronghold, Mosul, may lead to the return to Europe of violent IS fighters,” warns EU Commissioner Julian King. While a mass exodus of jihadists from Mosul to Europe is unlikely, even a handful of militants could pose “a serious threat that we must prepare ourselves for.”
France is particularly nervous, as it has already been hit by numerous attacks including the Nov. 13 incident in which jihadists coming back from Syria claimed 130 lives in Paris.
Another factor to consider here is the danger to the 1.5 million civilians trapped inside Mosul. Analysts predict the fight could displace up to 1 million people, adding to the 3 million Iraqis who have already been forced from their homes during the conflict with ISIS.
Mosul’s population will be in serious danger during the battle, and you can bet ISIS will use these innocents as human shields to deter aerial attacks.
Could Donald Trump be right?
During Wednesday night’s debate, Donald Trump suggested that Iraq started the attack on Mosul to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “The only reason they did it is because she’s running for the office of president and they want to look tough. They want to look good,” he said.
Trump’s criticisms of Hillary and Obama’s handling of the Middle East have certainly hit home, and this wouldn’t be the first “Wag the Dog” action we’ve seen.
The billionaire’s accusation was part of a quarrelsome back-and-forth between Hillary and Trump regarding the wars in Syria and Iraq and the rise of ISIS during which Clinton reiterated her plan to establish a no-fly zone in Syria – a move that many believe could lead to nuclear war with Russia.
Editor’s note: This could indeed be a “wag the dog” scenario. Unfortunately it won’t be completed before the election so Hillary won’t get any benefit from a partially conquered ISIS.
As a former intelligence officer with experience in Beirut, I can tell you that inexperienced soldiers in the middle east (i.e. the main Iraqi battle force) tend to be timid and erratic in firing their weapons. Picture a soldier with his weapon raised over his head above a barrier and firing blindly on automatic. With the main force I predict that, like in Beirut, few ISIS soldiers will be killed and thousands of civilians will be killed by the random fire.