A boy shows victory sign next to a captured IS armored vehicle in Najar neighborhood northwest Mosul, probably for use as a car bomb (Rudaw)
Roughly 4 neighborhoods remain under Islamic State control in Mosul (white area) (Ninewa Media Cell)
The liberation of all of Mosul is at hand. The Najar area along the Tigris River was the latest to fall to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). There was fighting going on in Rifai as well. Colonel Patrick Work, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 82 Airborne Division, which is advising the Iraqi army in the battle warned that as the last sections of the city were reached the fighting would reach a crescendo. The ISF were building a bridge across the Tigris to connect the east and west to allow people to flee the conflict. Another span was already put up in the northern section of the city for the same purpose. There are only four neighborhoods left in west Mosul under Islamic State control. Iraqi generals and politicians are still talking about freeing the city before Ramadan, which is only a few days away. That is unlikely to happen, but the final date is still close at hand.
CBS News followed the Federal Police in the Old City district. The police were hunting down a sniper going floor to floor, house to house looking for the gunman’s hideout. Out in the streets the insurgents were hanging up blankets across streets to block the ISF’s vision. Those streets were so narrow to begin with that the Iraqis couldn’t use their vehicles most of the time adding to the intensity and difficult of the fight. These and other reasons were why the police got stuck in the Old City weeks ago.
As the battle is winding down the west side of the city has been left in shambles. A new United Nations review using satellite imagery found 3,000 residential and commercial sites damaged in Mosul since August 2016. Most of east Mosul was left intact after it was freed with only a few neighborhoods showing the effects of heavy fighting. West Mosul has been completely different. The dense layout, the increased use of air strikes and artillery have all led to the destruction of much of the western half.
The Iraqi forces were accused of criminality again. Locals claimed that equipment and parts were taken from the Wadi Akab industrial zone in the west by members of the ISF. There have been other reports of the ISF looting houses. A group of thieves wearing military uniforms was also arrested trying to rob residences. While these stories have been few and far between they undermine the standing of the government’s forces, and need to be dealt with swiftly.
The Hashd freed more territory in western Ninewa, and were garnering more criticism as a result. Eight villages were freed in the Sinjar district around the town of Qayrawan. More officials called on the Hashd to withdraw stating that they were a threat to the stability of the area. The latest to make this call was the Sinjar council and the general secretary of the Christian Bet-Nahrain Democratic party. They join the Sinjar mayor and the Ninewa provincial council who have made similar comments. All of these, are connected to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is attempting to expel the Hashd to ensure its control over the district. The KDP is already having a difficult time with that after having abandoned the area in the face of the Islamic State, and competing with new groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Yazidi groups. The Hashd are not leaving and many have anti-Kurd sentiments, so they’re probably relishing in the role of challenging the KDP.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed three men from the town of Hadar and two local officials who said that the Hashd detained around 100 men in April 2017 and tortured and beat them during questioning. They were taken to a school and a house where the abuse occurred. HRW has document other such cases by the Hashd during the Ninewa operation. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence not just with the Hashd but the ISF as well. Almost anyone arrested in Iraq whether it be for robbery, rape, murder or setting off an IED is likely to have a confession beat out of them. The government has never done anything about this because it is widely accepted, and a lasting legacy of the years of dictatorship the country lived under.
The Hashd were in the news for other similar events. Four Hashd members were arrested for beating a parliamentarian (MP) at a checkpoint as he was trying to visit Mosul. The politician blamed followers of Maliki after the incident. In Nimrod, to the southwest of Mosul, a Shabak Hashd group led by the brother of an MP was accused of kidnapping the local district director and two of his staff members in a raid. Again, these types of stories only tarnish the image of the joint Iraqi forces as they struggle to free Ninewa of the Islamic militants.
The Associated Press went to the Ninewa plains which have been divided between Kurdish and government zones. The Peshmerga have dug a berm across nearly all of Ninewa to mark their frontline. This is now splitting the farms of locals. AP talked with two men who had their land cut nearly in half by the Kurds’ defensive position. This complicated all kinds of things such as travel, as it was very difficult for non-Kurds to cross the line and enter Kurdish controlled territory without a residency permit or a sponsor. People on the Kurdish side also rely upon government aid and services, but can’t get them as they do not cross the line. Irbil has promised to return all the land that it took when the Mosul campaign started in October. The rest of the territory however, it will keep. Baghdad has no plans for how to deal with this dilemma, and the Kurds would love to keep the territory as they claim almost all of it as part of their disputed areas. This is one of many issues the government will have to deal with after Mosul is liberated.
A related issue is that some Christian leaders are calling for an autonomous region in the province. On May 16 several community leaders made that demand of the government. They also want Baghdad to rebuild Christian sites destroyed by the insurgents such as the Mar Behnam and Mar Mattai monasteries. The director of antiquities in Ninewa noted that the government lacks money to accomplish that. Almost everyone agrees that changes are needed in Ninewa after Mosul. There is no consensus on which ones, and how they are to be implemented.
The flow of people out of Mosul and the difficulties they are facing continued to increase. The United Nations counted 375,282 displaced (IDP) registered with the authorities. From May 18-20, over 32,000 fled the city. The majority, after they are screened, are moving to east Mosul to be closer to their homes. Many more are attempting to leave the IDP camps as well and relocate to the city. From May 11-18 over 11,000 went to Mosul. Others want to leave the overcrowded camps to the south of the city and go to the ones in the north and east where there is still room. The government however is not providing information about these sites let alone transportation to get to them. Many have to spend their own meager sums in procuring private transportation to those camps. A recent survey of displaced from Ninewa found that the vast majority feel completely helpless about their situation because they believe they are not receiving aid or information, and that they are stuck where they are. The government agencies like the Displacement Ministry appear to be completely overwhelmed by the situation and are under serving the public as a result.
Finally, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced that the Kuwait government has been contributing a lot to the relief effort. That country has provided 42,000 medical screenings, 18,000 mattresses and blankets, 10,200 winter and spring clothes sets, 8,327 fuel kits, and 500 bread ovens. Kuwait is one of the only regional countries providing any meaningful aid to the people of Ninewa. Baghdad and aid groups can’t get enough outside assistance as they lack the funds and supplies to adequately deal with all the needs creating by the fighting.
Al Arabiya, "Iraqi forces recapture Najjar district in western Mosul," 5/22/17
Baghdad Post, “Iraqi forces a stone’s throw from fully liberating Mosul,” 5/22/17
- “Iraqi forces launch final battle to retake Old City, Nuri Mosque in Mosul,” 5/22/17
- “ISIS torches cars of civilians to bar forces from pushing deep in Mosul,” 5/22/17
Bas News, “Hashd Presence Does Not Bode Well for Future of Nineveh: Leader,” 5/22/17
- “Sinjar Officially Demands Hashd Al-Shaabi to Abstain from Yezidi Areas,” 5/22/17
Bassem, Wassim, “Iraq’s Christians demand reconstruction of religious sites,” Al Monitor, 5/21/17
D’Agata, Charlie, “Iraqi forces face toughest battle in Mosul offensive,” CBS News, 5/22/17
eKurd, “Iraqi Kurdistan News in brief – May 22, 2017,” 5/22/17
Gibbons-Neff, Thomas and Salim, Mustafa, “Final stages of Mosul battle will be ‘extremely violent,’ U.S. commander says,” Washington Post, 5/22/17
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Scores of Men Imprisoned in Schoolhouse,” 5/22/17
International Organization for Migration, “Displacement Tracking Matrix Emergency Tracking Mosul Operations Data Snapshot: 21 May 2017,” 5/21/17
- “IOM Iraq response to Mosul Crisis through the Government of Kuwait,” 5/21/17
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraqi forces retake western Mosul’s al-Najjar district, move closer to last IS haven,” Iraqi News, 5/22/17
- “IS members burn civilian vehicles in Mosul’s al-Shifa, evacuate to Old City,” Iraqi News, 5/22/17
- “Police shell IS locations in Mosul’s Old City preparing for decisive invasion,” Iraqi News, 5/22/17
- “Seven militants killed in western Mosul airstrike, bridge installed for civilians evacuation,” Iraqi News, 5/22/17
Shafaaq News, “Arrested four members of the popular crowd for the attack on a Shabak representative in the Iraqi parliament,” 5/22/17
- “Residents accuse Iraqi forces of looting an industrial zone in Mosul,” 5/22/17
- “Security source: Shabak crowd kidnapped local official and two staff in Nimrod,” 5/22/17
Al Sumaria, “The liberation of the rest of West Mosul,” 5/22/17
Szlanko, Balint, “Boundary between Iraq, Kurdistan territory divides communities,” Associated Press, 5/22/17
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “Iraq Situation: UNHCR Flash Update – 21 May 2017,” 5/21/17
- “Mosul Weekly Protection Update 13-19 May 2017,” 5/19/17
Xinhua, “Iraqi forces liberate new neighborhood in western Mosul,” 5/22/17