The army chief of staff General Osman al-Ghani said that the attack on west Mosul would start soon. He encouraged people to return to the city and for the government to assist those still displaced. The government is continuing to push its propaganda line that the Islamic State is defeated and that taking west Mosul will be easier than east Mosul as a result.
A commander from the Golden Division told the press that IS had no presence in east Mosul, and yet sleeper cells continue to be found along with infiltrations and continuous shelling and drone strikes. General Saadi Maan stated that the insurgents were no longer in liberated sections of Mosul. He did acknowledge that there were infiltrators. Five IS fighters were killed trying to sneak into the Rashidiya neighborhood in the northern tip of the city. In nearby Darkazlia searches led to a firefight with 16 IS being killed, and 17 arrested including 2 suicide bombers. Several more insurgents were discovered trying to cross the Tigris into east Mosul and were wiped out. Drone attacks, mortar fire, and rockets on eleven neighborhoods left 45 dead and 21 wounded. There are gun battles with militants almost every day now in east Mosul. The government has warned about sleeper cells and IS fighters who disappeared into the general population. The Iraqi forces (ISF) are attempting to root them out with raids and searches throughout the city. At the same time, IS is shelling and launching drone strikes causing more and more casualties. This is leading to continued displacement from Mosul.
IS’s main activity in west Mosul was maintaining control. It burned ten people on charges of helping the Iraqi forces. It raided the New Mosul neighborhood looking for phones, and when they found them people were shot. Another five civilians were executed for trying to flee across the Tigris River. Their bodies were strung up to scare others.
East Mosul is also suffering from severe shortages of food, fuel, and general supplies. People told Iraq Oil Report that the situation had gotten so bad that people were checking themselves into hospitals due to malnutrition.
In the west the Hashd have not reported much progress in its sixth phase of operations there lately, but IS did launch an attack upon Hajaf in the Tal Abta area. As in Mosul, the militants’ strategy is to constantly launch operations even when they are hopeless. The Tal Afar district is mostly wide open countryside meaning any attack is easily detected, and especially vulnerable to artillery and air strikes. This has not stopped them from occurring.
A major goal of the Haider Abadi administration is to win over Mosul’s population. The Golden Division has been exemplarily at doing that while some other ISF have not been as professional being accused of arbitrary arrests, abuses, and looting. Jonathan Spyer for The American Interest interviewed some displaced from the city at the Khazir camp who were not so optimistic about the future. One said that a sectarian war would break out because Shiites wanted revenge for the Camp Speicher massacre that occurred when IS seized Tikrit and massacred around 1,600 ISF recruits. Another told Spyer that he feared that the army would mistreat people once again as they had done before Mosul fell in 2014. That means the government still has work to do. Another problem raised in another article was that while life is returning to the city, the rebuilding process is moving along slowly. That’s because the government lacks the money for major reconstruction at this time.
There are several thousand Counter Terror Forces, army, Federal Police, Rapid Reaction forces and a Shabak Hashd unit inside Mosul, but eventually the police will have to take over security duties. The U.S. led coalition is now training those forces. 3,000 police and border guards have completed their courses. The Spanish Army for example is running a program just for the police. Baghdad has asked that more be trained. Before Mosul fell the city had around 25,000 police and 40,000 Federal Police not to mention army units. By January there were only around 8,000 police on duty. That is another long term issue facing the city.
The Kurds held a ceremony for a new Arab Peshmerga unit that completed its basic training. Another 1,000 man unit is scheduled to be readied next. Sheikhs from the Shammar, Jihesh, and Jabouri tribes were in attendance. Since 2003 the Kurds have attempted to co-opt Arab tribes in Ninewa to solidify their hold on the area and create facts on the ground that would support the annexation of the disputed areas they claim as historically theirs. Recruiting these Arabs is part of that long standing process. Some in Baghdad are not happy with it, but that will have to be resolved after the Islamic State is defeated.
Another sign that the future of Ninewa is still up in the air, a Christian Hashd unit led by Salman Esso Habba gave a 72 hour deadline for Arabs to evacuate the town of Tal Keif. Habba claimed the town belonged to Christians and threatened to expel any Arabs who did not comply with his ultimatum. This is another example of how different groups have competing claims over sections of the province.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had new information on the flow of people in and out of Mosul. From February 4-5 920 people left the city mostly due to IS shelling. It also noted that there were food and service shortages which were also motivating factors. At the same time, over those two days another 2,249 returned to the liberated districts of the city. The UNHCR noted that more people are now going back to their homes than fleeing. When west Mosul is attacked, that will likely be reversed.
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