Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 127, Feb 20, 2017

(Institute for the Study of War)
The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued their advance on the second day of the new campaign for Mosul. Six villages were freed. That included Abu Saif, which is the high ground overlooking part of south Mosul. Another was Sahaji, which cut the road from Mosul to Tal Afar. The Federal Police and Rapid Response Division also began attacking the Ghazlani army base, which is next to the Mosul airport. The government’s media cell announced that this marked the end of the first stage of operations. Next will be taking the airport and then moving into the city itself.

The ISF are going to open another front eventually with a crossing of the Tigris River led by the Golden Division. They are staging in the Palestine and Yarimjah neighborhoods in the southern tip of the eastern half of the city. They will likely connect with the police forces coming from the south. Much of the talk before the campaign re-started was of this river crossing across the Tigris. That led to the Islamic State fortifying riverbank. That now appears to have been a feint to distract the militants from where the real attack would come from, which is in the south.

The official line from the Iraqi political and military leadership is that the Islamic State is already defeated, and west Mosul will be easier than the east. New Sabah, the government’s paper, for instance, had another story of IS fighters fleeing the city. Now that the battle has actually begun, ground commanders are beginning to dissent. They told both Reuters and CNN that they expect the coming fight for the city to be difficult. The main problem is the narrow streets and packed buildings. The roads are too small for tanks and armored fighting vehicles to navigate. The closeness of the buildings will also make it more difficult to call in artillery or air strikes for fear of collateral damage. The Islamic State has also laid down its usual IED fields and booby traps, and is building berms to block off streets to try to limit the Iraqi forces’ movement through the city. It will also deploy suicide and car bombs just as it did in the east. The terrain will make it a more difficult fight, but in the end IS’s defenses will be broken and the city will eventually be taken.

U.S. and British Special Forces are right at the front with the ISF. British Special Air Service, American Green Berets and the Delta Force were all reported to be working with the Iraqis. The U.S. commander in Iraq General Stephen Townsend said that they were close to the battle lines. This is part of the Trump administration’s new policy to loosen the rules of engagement. News reports about these advisers led Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s office to admit their presence but deny that they were taking part in any of the fighting. The premier is pro-Western, but his main opponents are within his own Dawa Party and part of the Hashd who are aligned with Iran. They are constantly complaining about the U.S. led Coalition’s presence, which was why Abadi’s office had to issue such a statement.

Aid groups are still afraid of a pending humanitarian crisis from the new battle. More camps and tents are being built as a result. These organizations are trying to prepare for three possible scenarios from the attack on west Mosul. One is a mass displacement of up to 400,000 people. Another is a long siege that could trap the civilians inside the city, which is already suffering massive shortages of food, fuel, electricity and water. The third is people leaving in an orderly fashion. What’s more likely is that most of the population stays inside the city just as they did in the east with a few thousand fleeing. The United Nations has consistently overestimated the displacement that would occur from this campaign. Originally it warned of up to one million people leaving their homes. Only around 200,000 left all of Ninewa, and now more people are returning.

The Daily Beast had an article on the difficulty of rebuilding the police force in Mosul. Before 2014 when the city fell there were 28,000 officers in the city. There were also army units to help with security. Today there are only 6,000 police. The U.S. Coalition is trying to help with the situation by training an entirely new police force. That is a long process however. In the meantime the city is being secured by a hodgepodge of army, police, Federal Police, Hashd, and local neighborhood and tribal forces. While the population is trying to help them by providing information on IS suspects the different forces do not cooperate, and actively compete with each other leading to gaps in security, which the insurgents are sure to exploit. If the militants continue with their bombings and escalate to assassinations and rebuilding their criminal activities once business returns less people will likely be willing to inform on them. That could devolve into the pre-2014 situation when IS was like a mafia controlling large swaths of the city.

As more time passes disputes over the future of Ninewa become more public. A group of pro-Kurdish sheikhs held a press conference calling for Kurdish President Massoud Barzani to free the rest of the province rather than have the Hashd do it. At the same time, a Hashd commander said that ex-Governor Atheel Nujafi’s Ninewa Guards should not be given control of any liberated areas. There are a number of Arab tribes in the governorate that Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has attempted to co-opt over the years to support its goals of annexing the disputed areas. Pro-Iranian Hashd are also opposed to the Nujafi’s returning to power because they are aligned with the KDP. These arguments are likely to escalate.


Al Aalem, “The first stage completed in Ninewa We Are Coming and Baghdad denies the involvement of foreign troops,” 2/20/17

AIN, “Summary of today’s operation to free West Mosul,” 2/20/17

Atassi, Basma, Beech, Samantha, and Yan, Holly, “Battle for Mosul: Iraqi forces take key village near airport from ISIS,” CNN, 2/20/17

Bas News, “Mosul: Iraqi Troops Storm Biggest Military Camp in North,” 2/20/17

BBC, “Mosul offensive: Iraqi army battles for outskirts of IS city,” 2/20/17

Griffin, Jennifer, “US troops in Iraq operating closer to front lines,” Fox News, 2/20/17

Gysin, Patrick, “British Troops Fresh Offensive,” The Sun, 2/20/17

Hemid, Leyla, “Nineveh Plains Residents Seek Barzani’s Support against Shi’ite Militias,” Bas News, 2/20/17

Hennigan, W.J. and Bulos, Nabih, “U.S. advisors are now fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul,” Los Angeles Times, 2/20/17

Iraq Oil Report, “Inside Mosul: Feb. 20, 2017,” 2/21/17

Kakawais, Halo, “Iraqi forces will face ISIS suicide bombers, IEDs as they target Mosul airport,” Rudaw, 2/20/17

Kalin, Stephen and Chmaytelli, Maher, “Iraqi forces battle their way toward Mosul airport,” Reuters, 2/20/17

Kullab, Samya, “Aid groups brace for surge of displaced Mosul residents,” Al Jazeera, 2/20/17

Al Masalah, “Asadi: There is no intention of handing over liberated areas to Najafi’s forces,” 2/20/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, "7 civilians dead, wounded as Islamic State drones fall down in western Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/20/17
- “Officer: Iraqi troops invade IS-occupied military base west of Mosul,” Iraqi News, 2/20/17
- “PMUs kill 23 militants in western Mosul, police advance toward strategic targets,” Iraqi News, 2/20/17
- “PMUs take over last village on Mosul-Tal Afar route, police kill 9 militants,” Iraqi News, 2/20/17

Neuhof, Florian, “The Terrifying ISIS Sleeper Cells of Mosul,” Daily Beast, 2/19/17

New Sabah, “Dozens of Daesh members fled to Syria,” 2/20/17

Reuters, “Iraqi forces reach vicinity of Mosul airport,” 2/20/17
- “Trump’s defense chief says in Iraq: We’re not here for your oil,” 2/20/17

Rudaw, “Iraqi forces take key village south of Mosul airport,” 2/20/17
- “LIVE UPDATES: Abadi announces start of military campaign for west Mosul,” 2/19/17

Al Sumaria, "Ninewa We Are Coming declares Al Zakh village freed west of Mosul," 2/20/17
- “Popular crowd announced free village West of Mosul and killed eight Daesh members,” 2/20/17


Roberto said...

Thank you for your blog, I have been thoroughly enjoying your daily abridgements. One question about today's post: you said in pre-2014 Mosul, IS controlled parts of the city in a mafia-like style. Do you mean the remnants of its predecessor, AQI? And, if they had such control of the city, is this the reason why IS was able to capture the city so quickly?

Joel Wing said...

Mosul became the main base for the Islamic State around 2008 when they were being driven out of Baghdad and the surrounding provinces by the Surge and the Awakening and Sahwa. It doesn't matter the name (AQI, ISI, IS, etc.) because it is the same group.

If you want to know how Mosul fell here's something I wrote on it from 2014.


U.S. Army History of Iraq War Vol 1- Chapter 19 The Iraqi Civil War Comes Into The Open, January-June 2006

The winter of 2005-06 saw Iraq’s civil war come out into the open. That was after the February 2006 bombing of the Samarra shrine. Unsurpris...