UPDATE: Prime Minister Abadi at around 7:30 am on February 19 announced that the assault on west Mosul has begun.
The Iraqi press reported three attacks on east Mosul. A drone strike and rockets on two neighborhoods killed a total of 7 people and wounded 19. A suicide bomber was also killed. The media has been covering these incidents less and less in recent days. That could because of the government, which has looked down on negative reporting on the war and tried to limit it.
The Islamic State launched another major assault upon the Hashd lines in the Tal Afar district. The Hashd have claimed these are some of the largest attacks they have seen. The Iraqi forces (ISF) said that the insurgents were trying to breakthrough to Syria. They may also be trying to get to Baaj, which is to the west of Tal Afar where IS leadership has been said to be staying at.
Securing east Mosul has also been more difficult than expected. While nothing can be done about the constant shelling and drone strikes until east Mosul is taken, there are infiltrations and IS sleeper cells operating in the city as well. One major problem has been the fact that a variety of security forces in east Mosul. There are army units, Federal Police, local police, Hashd groups and local fighters inside, and the Ninewa Guards on the outskirts. These are all competing for influence. A commander from the Ninewa Guards for instance wanted to return to Mosul after the Joint Operations Command expelled it under political pressure from opponents of its leader former Ninewa Govenror Atheel Nujafi. Another issue is that the city will eventually be turned over to the police, but there are not enough of them. The U.S. led Coalition is trying to help with that matter having just trained around 5,000 ISF that will be sent to the city. This will remain an issue for the foreseeable future as there are only a fraction of the police necessary to hold Mosul leaving the government to rely upon this hodgepodge of forces until the police are built up.
It appears that the ISF are ramping up to take west Mosul. A general from the Golden Division stated that the operation would start this week. The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets over the city once more telling the population they would be freed soon. The Joint Operations Command announced that the Federal Police attacked four villages near the Mosul airport south of the city and were shelling west Mosul as well. They along with the Rapid Reaction forces have been building up a town called Areyj for their eventual push on the city. American and Canadian Special Forces were supporting them. The Golden Division was firing mortars onto areas where pontoon bridges are expected to be placed to cross the Tigris River into east Mosul. A spokesman for the Ninewa Operations Command told the Los Angeles Times that it expected 400 die hard IS members to go down fighting, while the rest would eventually run. A general from the Rapid Reaction forces also noted that there were many IS supporters in the city as well, especially in the Old City that might prove difficult. Finally, the militants were moving civilians into certain areas to use them as human shields. There has been nearly a month’s pause since west Mosul was taken. That was to be expected as the Iraqi units had to be re-supplied, refitted, replacements and new units sent in, and repositioned. Still, the move to take east Mosul has to be just around the corner.
The Associated Press reported that the Iraqi forces are getting help to prepare for the coming battle from informants working behind enemy lines. Intelligence officers told the agency that it has up to 300 people inside Mosul providing information on the insurgents. They have been providing the locations of IS fighting positions and troop movement. Some of this has proven false, but the intelligence agencies have tried to cross check when possible.
There was more on the declining situation within west Mosul. First, the United Nations continued to worry that a mass displacement may happen when the other side of the city is attacked. The fact that most people stayed in east Mosul when it was assaulted seems to not have changed the opinion of the U.N., who originally warned that up to 1 million people may feel the fighting. Second, the U.N. is still warning about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the west side. There are massive food, fuel, electricity and water shortages. 3 out of 5 people are using untreated water for example out of wells. With the city cut off from its main supply lines to Syria this will only get worse. The New York Times called people in west Mosul. They told of IS giving out food as rewards for those that would turn in others for any number of violations. The militants themselves were hoarding supplies. Civilians cannot freely move about as well due to IS restrictions. Another sign of how bad things have gotten the Anadolu Agency reported that four children starved to death. Finally, the Islamic State raided two neighborhoods looking for people using cell phones, computers or satellite TVs. The only way things will get better is for west Mosul to be liberated. Then aid agencies and the government will need to step in and immediately provide relief. The problem is those two are hardly present in west Mosul almost a month after it was freed.
Last, Al Monitor interviewed Atheel Nujafi. He said that he expected there to be competition between moderate and extremist parties after Ninewa was completely freed. The extremists would be those that played upon fears of Shiites. He went on to promote his Ninewa Guards as the only security forces made out of locals and called for them to return to Mosul as a result. He dismissed the arrest warrant against him as political pressure from opponents who wanted him out. Finally he attacked the Ninewa governor and provincial council as being no representative and wanted a new administration. Most of these are themes that Nujafi has talked about before. He has promoted his Ninewa Guards to regain his status in the province. He was hoping that they would allow him to return to power, hence his criticism of the standing provincial government, but that’s yet to be seen as they and others have struck back at him. Deciding Ninewa’s politics will be another big struggle in the future.
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