Zinjali on the left is where the biggest but still limited advance has been made so far in the final attack upon Mosul. In the top right there was penetration into Saha as well. (Ninewa Media Cell)
The final fight for Mosul continued to be a difficult one. Reuters reported that the Islamic State closed off the streets around the Grand Mosque in the Old City district. The insurgents have also been moving people out of Zinjali and into the Old City to try to prevent them from escaping. There were no advances reported. When the latest operation started Iraqi officials and the security forces were overly optimistic as usual. Zinjali, Shifa and Saha were predicted to fall by June 1, and the whole city in just a matter of days. With only limited results in four days it is hard to believe that either of those deadlines are going to be met.
There was mixed news coming out of west Ninewa. First, the Hashd were still assaulting the town of Baaj. The Hashd said that IS was trapped in the town and couldn’t maneuver anymore. On the other hand, the Islamic State launched a counter attack upon the Hashd that stopped their advance. There was also news of a possible counter attack in Baaj. The second issue was the Iraq-Syrian border. That was reached yesterday to great fanfare. Iranian media posted a picture of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander General Qasim Suleimani posing with Hashd members at the border. Hashd officials were talking about crossing over to Syria, but with government approval. If they want to secure the border first that is a big task. The Hashd have only taken 17 kilometers of a border that is roughly 600 kilometers long. There is already news that the Hashd need help with this effort. The Hashd have taken a huge amount of territory in western Ninewa and captured dozens and dozens of towns. Holding such a huge section of the province is daunting, and now they are talking about expanding even more along the Syrian border. That has to be stretching resources.
The Hashd’s problems with the Kurds continued. Another Yazidi militia joined the Hashd. This is a direct threat to the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) control over the Sinjar district. There are many Yazidis who are done with the KDP after it abandoned them when the Islamic State took Sinjar in 2014, and subsequently massacred their community. The party has been struggling to regain control of the area since it moved back in. The fact that it left many towns under the Islamic State, which the Hashd are now liberating just adds to the party’s problems. This is the second Yazidi unit to go to the Hashd, and they seem to be reveling at taking shots at the Kurds.
The Hashd deputy commander Abu Muhandis told the press that technical and political issues are holding up the taking of Tal Afar in west Ninewa. He said operations along the Syrian border and political objections to the Hashd were delaying attacking the town. The Hashd are still hoping that they will be allowed to liberate the village, but that’s still up in the air. They haven’t been able to so far because of threats from Turkey to intervene if they do. The ultimate fate of the Tal Afar won’t be decided until after Mosul.
USA Today wrote about the difficulties of reconciliation in Ninewa after the Mosul campaign is over. The paper talked with displaced families in camps in Irbil who had relatives that joined IS. All of them had the same story that they joined out of hardships and none of them said their loved ones ever took part in combat. No one will admit to more because of fear of retaliation. They were worried not only about their family but themselves. There are many calling for collective punishment for anyone associated with the insurgents. The director of a reconciliation group noted that approach would be a disaster for the province and Iraq in general because it would condemn so many people that might not have done anything wrong. There is also the issue of finding IS suspects. As many human rights groups have found the Iraqi forces are apt to beat people to get a confession out of them. An army intelligence officer and a tribal Hashd leader both admitted that abuse was used in interrogations. Many are afraid to return to their homes out of fear of what might happen to them as a result. This dilemma is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon as the government has no plans for life after IS. Several political parties have put out their own reconciliation programs, but nothing has been agreed upon. With voting for parliament next year there is added pressure to not compromise on such matters as that would give a victory to potential electoral opponents. That will meant that whatever local force has power and weapons will be able to decide the fate of IS suspects and their families. That could lead to executions, and mass bannings of people from returning to their homes as has happened in other areas of the country.
Another Christian group was trying to rebuild its community. A Chaldean Catholic organization was repairing the St. George’s Monastery in Mosul. It was looted and wrecked by the Islamic State. Christians are one group in Ninewa that are not waiting for the government to fund reconstruction. Like many in the province they are taking matters into their own hands since the authorities are acting very slowly and don’t have much money to spend anyway.
The new offensive in Mosul has slowed down the rate of displacement despite the Iraqi forces attempting to evacuate people from the battlefield. The United Nations recorded 2,250 people arriving at the Hamam al-Alil screening center on May 29 and 3,200 on May 30. That was down from an average of 10,000 per day last week. There is now a total of 377,952 registered displaced in Ninewa since the start of the Mosul battle. There are many more that never signed up with the government or aid agencies. More people are fleeing Tal Afar. The town has been surrounded for months by the Hashd, but there is no combat going on thus allowing people the chance to escape. Aid agencies are afraid that there are tens of thousands still in US held areas of the city, and most will try to get out perhaps causing a massive outward flow.
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