I meant to write about this topic last week but I had a pretty hectic week of traveling. So here is your update on the ongoing battle in Mosul, Iraq.
Mosul has been a major ISIS stronghold since they seized control of the city in June of 2014. There are an estimated 5,000 ISIS fighters in the city among roughly 600,000 civilians. There are reports that the fighters are using the civilians as human shields and executing anyone who attempts to oppose them.
About two weeks ago the city was surrounded by Kurdish Peshmerga (about 10,000 strong), Turkish backed militias, Iraqi military (about 18,000 strong), and Shia militias. Embedded in these forces are over 100 American personnel and other advising/supporting Western forces. These forces and others have begun their offensive on the surrounding villages and have succeeded in retaking some of these periphery positions as they make preparations to enter and clear the city. Leaflets were recently dropped into the city for civilians, advising them to stay indoors, remain calm, and gave them tips for talking to their children about upcoming battle.
Since the invasion of Mosul began a little over a week ago, ISIS launched a bold counterattack against the Kurdish controlled city of Kirkuk, about 100 miles away from Mosul. ISIS suicide bombers and gunmen have attacked Kirkuk police stations and power plants. There have been reports that about 70 fighters have infiltrated the city disguised as displaced persons from the Mosul attack, other reports claim the attacks were conducted by sleeper cell terrorists.
Back in Mosul, ISIS fighters have been fiercely defending the city that represents their capital and last major stronghold. They have utilized a number of car bombs, mortar attacks, IEDs and sniper teams; so far successfully holding off assaulting forces. There are reports that some ISIS fighters have attempted to smuggle their own families out of Mosul to Syria, while others report ISIS has been executing its members caught trying to flee. This could be a sign that ISIS realizes they won’t survive the imminent attack on Mosul.
The region is on the brink of one of the worst man-made humanitarian crises in history. The UN estimates there will be roughly 1 million Internally Displaced Persons following this ordeal. So far, only about 4,000 have been able to flee Mosul meaning there are still many civilians unable to flee. A major concern is that ISIS will deploy chemical weapons in the city and attempt to hide among the evacuating population. The UN is not at all prepared to deal with chemical weapons or provide care to the victims of such attacks. Many fear that citizens from Western countries who have joined ISIS will return to their home countries as full-blown radicalized terrorists. The situation looks pretty bleak.
There’s more bad news. On Thursday, 20 Oct, an American Navy Chief Petty Officer was killed by an IED. Jason C. Finan, 34, sustained fatal wounds after a roadside IED struck the armored vehicle he was in. Finan was part of an explosive ordinance disposal unit and supported the Iraqi troops as an adviser.
The situation is not ideal in Mosul, but there are some potential positive outcomes here. The three largest stakeholders in the region, Iraq, Iran and the Kurds, who have fought against each other in the past are now more united than ever in their battle against Sunni Islamic terrorists such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. ISIS’s attacks on Iranian, Kurdish and Iraqi interests such as Mosul and Kirkuk could be the motivation needed to unite in rebuilding and stabilizing the area. That might be wishful thinking, but oh well. Also, was this sweet moment in which a young girl thanks the Iraqi military for rescuing her from ISIS in Mosul. A little reminder that these are real suffering people that are grateful being saved from the monsters of ISIS.