The dense layout of the Old City in west Mosul along with poor weather has severely slowed down the progress of the Iraqi forces (ISF). The Iraqis are declaring specific buildings and streets freed such as Ninewa Hospital to document their advances. The ISF were still pushing on the Great Mosque, which was where Islamic State head Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi announced the caliphate in 2014. Yesterday, the Bab al-Tob neighborhood was officially declared freed, but on March 16 the Iraqi air forces was still bombing targets in the neighborhood to try to root out Islamic State snipers. Finally, the Iraqi forces tried to push into Nablus, but the fighting was so fierce that American spotters were called in to bring in Apache helicopters for close fire missions. Heavy rains in recent days have limited air support, which has slowed progress by the ground troops. The compact layout of the Old City has also made things difficult because many of the streets are too narrow for ISF vehicles to maneuver. Finally, despite Iraqi propaganda IS is still putting up fierce opposition. Altogether that has led the ISF to begin to adjust their plans to deal with the new environment.
The Associated Press was the latest to recognize that different sources are giving varying figures for the progress through west Mosul. U.S. General Joseph Martin for example said that a little over a third of the western section had been taken, while Iraqi General Yahya Rasool a spokesman for the ISF had the figure at 60%. Even Iraqi sources are giving different numbers. That’s because each is using a different measurement. Sometimes they are counting districts, other times area, sometimes that includes the airport and Ghazlani camp outside the city and sometimes it does not. There’s also the fact that Iraqi propaganda often exaggerates things.
Speaking of propaganda the Wall Street Journal had an article that seemed heavily influenced by some coming from the Iraqis and Americans. The piece claimed that of the 1,500-2,000 IS fighters believed to be defending the city, 70-80% were foreign fighters because the Iraqis had fled. General Joseph Martin added that these foreigners were being privileged over Iraqi members. The point was to suggest that the group was breaking apart. It also contradicted earlier Iraqi claims that most foreign fighters had abandoned Mosul for Syria weeks ago. This has been a common theme, that IS is done, and finished as a fighting force. While strategically defeated, and destined to lose Mosul, it is still capable on the tactical level as the 149th day of the campaign showed, and is already rebuilding itself as an insurgent force.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) was concerned about the Iraqi use of indiscriminate artillery and missile fire in west Mosul. It noted various times that the ISF has used these weapons and worried about the cost they are incurring. Various sources have noted that there have been high numbers of civilian casualties not only from these systems, but air strikes as well, which the State Department was just questioned about. The western section is not only densely populated, but the Iraqi government told people to stay in place because they could not take care of them if they left. All together that has led to a large number of dead and wounded amongst the population.
More and more people keep leaving Mosul. The Displacement Ministry had the figure at 152,857 with around 98,000 in camps and 54,000 in other areas. Aid groups only have about 100,000, but that was because they are only counting people that have registered. The increasing numbers are putting extreme pressure on aid groups and the government. New camps are being built, but the ones in the south are overflowing and running low on supplies. There is actually room in Kurdistan, but few people are being directed there.
Rebuilding is moving ahead in east Mosul and towns outside the city. Around 258,000 kids are back in school for instance in 320 schools in Mosul and the surrounding area. Few children got an education during the two years of IS rule either because their parents wouldn’t send them or girls were banned. These facilities lack supplies and furniture however, the teachers are not being paid, and there are very few high schools open. It is still an important step in getting things back to normal.
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Adel, Loaa, "Security forces foil IS attack on Badush, shell militants near Kazak camp: officer," Iraqi News, 3/16/17
Agence France Presse, “More than 150,000 Iraqis fled west Mosul fighting: ministry,” 3/16/17
Baghdad Post, "20 civilians dead, 50 injured in fierce battles continue," 3/16/17
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Mostafa, Mohamed, “Commander: security advances in central Mosul halt again over bad weather,” Iraqi News, 3/16/17
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- “Mosul halt again over bad weather,” Iraqi News, 3/16/17
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Shafaaq News, "The killing of four civilians in a rocket attack on Islah in Mosul," 3/16/17
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