The last assault on Mosul finally began. The Army’s 9th, 15th, and 16th Divisions attacked the Shifa neighborhood. The Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division went into Zinjali, while the Golden Division attacked the first Saha district. The Third Bridge across the Tigris River was reached, and the Mosul Hotel and Tamuz 17 were both taken. This was the fourth time the latter was declared freed. A brigade and a regimental commander in the 16th Division were killed in the day’s fighting. General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi of the Golden Division appeared on television stating that the Islamic State had lost control of the situation. On the other hand, General Haider Fadhil also of the Golden Division said that resistance had not lessoned, and remained high. Other Iraqi and American officers thought this would be the toughest part of the entire operation. IS only controls roughly five square miles of territory along the Tigris, but they have put up a determined defense especially in the Old City, which held up the police for months. The layout of the city in this area is especially dense and many streets are too narrow for vehicles or tanks to traverse. There have been several reports of the Iraqi forces having to fight floor to floor inside buildings. The insurgents also have an extensive tunnel network and have dug holes in walls to allow them to fire and maneuver without exposing themselves to air strikes. It’s likely that this final phase will take a few weeks to conclude.
At a Pentagon briefing on May 19 U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis claimed that the Mosul battle was part of a new strategy. Instead of letting IS fighters escape the Iraqis had surrounded the entire city, and were determined to kill all the IS members inside. This would reduce the threat they posed not only to Iraq, but the region as many foreign fighters could return to their home countries and spread chaos. The major problem with the secretary’s argument was that the Iraqis gave ample warning as to when the Mosul offensive would start allowing the leadership to flee. When the battle started in October it took months to cut off the city, so there was additional time for insurgent cadres to move on to other areas of Iraq and Syria. While many IS members went down fighting, a sizeable number probably made it out.
The Hashd were making more progress in western Mosul, while causing more controversy. The Hashd captured three more villages around Baaj. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official Pasha Khalaf told the Daily Beast that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Sinjar was working with Tehran to allow the Hashd to create a land bridge from Iran across Iraq to Syria to allow men and materials to flow to the government of Bashar al-Assad. A member of the Sinjar council and the town’s mayor responded to Asaib Ahl Al-Haq spokesman Jawad al-Talabawi who said that the Hashd would enter the village by saying they were not needed. The Hashd also held a ceremony to turn over the town of Kocho to Yazidis. They said they would remain there to protect the locals. This was a symbolic event as the village was the site of an IS massacre of Yazidis, and the Kurds had not freed it when they moved back into west Ninewa. As soon as the Hashd entered the Sinjar district they started a war of words with the KDP who are struggling to maintain control of the area against the incursions of the PKK and the desire of some Yazidis to break the yoke of Kurdish hegemony. The Hashd are entering this fray because many of them are opposed to the Kurds’ independence moves, alliance with Turkey, and believe they assisted IS sympathizers. Despite the escalating verbal attacks upon each other, National Security Professor Hussein al-Allawi of Al-Nahrain University told Al Monitor he didn’t think that would escalate to an armed confrontation. Allawi believed a deal was brokered in mid-May when National Security Adviser Falah Fayad visited President Massoud Barzani. That’s yet to be seen, and the Hashd continue to provoke the Kurds.
General Shaban Nasiri of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) was killed during the day. He was advising the Hashd in the Baaj area, was an Iran-Iraq War veteran, helped found the Badr Brigade during that time, and worked in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Many of the Hashd units involved in the operation are pro-Iranian, so there should be no surprise that there were Iranian elements accompanying them. This was the first time an Iranian was acknowledged to have died in the Mosul operation, and the second IRGC general to die in the larger war against the Islamic State in Iraq.
Ninewa police chief General Wathiq al-Hamdani banned the niqab, because IS was using it in Mosul. The niqab is a garment that covers the entire female body except for the hands and eyes. IS members have been using it to disguise themselves and infiltrate areas of east Mosul.
The Toronto Star was the latest paper to write an article based upon the work of Ali Arkady who exposed a unit of the Rapid Reaction Division (RRD) abusing IS suspects during the Mosul campaign. The RRD released two videos interviewing people Arkady mentioned who denied his report. The videos however did not fully contradict him. For example, in the original Der Spiegel article the RRD unit was interrogating a man, while an officer said he was going to rape a woman. In the RRD video the woman claimed that didn’t happen. In the Der Spiegel article however, the police officer said he didn’t force himself upon the woman either as she was on her period. This was captured on a video clip included in the Toronto Star as well. Iraqis on social media have been up in arms about the articles as well, yet few appeared to have read any of them. Human Rights Watch is launching an investigation into the matter, and may shed more light on exactly what happened.
Finally, Vice President Nouri al-Maliki was using Mosul to future his political agenda. He claimed that the Islamic State was part of an American plot against Iraq. He continued that President Obama planned the fall of Mosul during meetings in Kurdistan. Since losing the premiership Maliki has thrown in his lot with Iran. These comments mirrored many talking points made by Tehran and its allies within Iraq.
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