The Iraqi forces’ (ISF) statements either by officers or even official ones have become so unreliable that they cannot be trusted unless pictures are posted on social media or a western reporter confirms them. For example, on February 20 a police major told Bas News that the Rapid Reaction Division was attacking the Ghazlani camp on the outskirts of southern Mosul. On February 21, a source told AIN that the camp had been liberated. February 22, the Joint Operations Command officially announced that the Rapid Reaction Division and Federal Police were assaulting the facility, and moving onto the Mosul airport as well. In fact, they did not do either of those until February 23. The ISF has a poor record on reporting on the facts of their operations. Towns have been declared freed before the ISF even arrive, or when they are first attacked, or when there is still shooting going on. This is due to the government’s victory narrative that the ISF are constantly winning. That explains the above statements and others like them since the war started in 2014. The problem is the Iraqi forces are advancing and they are winning yet they can’t stop exaggerating. Ghazlani is going to be taken, so why say it is before it actually happens?
What the police forces were actually doing on February 22 was solidifying their positions in the town of Abu Saif, which they just freed the day before. They were building defensive berms, and preparing to take Yarmouk, which is just north of Abu Saif, and then attack Ghazlani and the airport. Coalition air strikes were softening up those areas. 480 people fled Yarmouk to Abu Saif. They told the Iraqi forces that there were hardly any Islamic State fighters ahead of them, so they should move forward. Overall resistance has been very light so far on this front.
Hashd forces in the west were on the offensive taking two towns and attacking another. IS launched a number of counter attacks with car bombs and suicide bombers. The main goal of these units is to cut the road between Mosul and Tal Afar to try to button up Islamic State fighters within the former.
During the day one cameraman was wounded covering the new campaign.
More importantly, the United States admitted that its advisers had taken fire and been wounded. No details were given, but the Americans said that its forces had been travelling with Iraqis at the front and suffered casualties as a result. This is part of the new Trump Administration’s policy of increasing its participation in the war against the Islamic State.
Everyday the militants are bombarding east Mosul with drones, mortars, and rockets. The press is covering fewer and fewer of these incidents, but that doesn't mean they’re not happening. The only casualties reported were 5 killed and 3 injured from a drone. Just as disconcerting was the fact that IS put up leaflets in a neighborhood telling people to leave otherwise they would be considered targets and be killed. Many IS members slipped into the civilian population of the city to hide, while others were a stay behind force to sow mischief. The ISF is trying to hunt them down, but there are increasing complaints about their heavy handedness, which might turn the population against them. At the same time, IS threats and intimidation are working towards the same goal. This could lead to a very dangerous and unstable situation once all of Mosul is taken.
The Golden Division, which did most of the heavy fighting in east Mosul, has not entered the fray yet, but they are about to. General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi from the Division said his forces would join the battle soon. Columns of their vehicles have been seen moving from the south. Beforehand, all of the news was of them launching a frontal assault across the Tigris River. IS spent a lot of time and effort to build up its defenses along the riverbank as a result. This was all part of a psychological campaign to deceive the militants and put their fighters along the Tigris when the new front was coming from the south.
To add to the psychological operations the Iraqi air force dropped thousands of letters from Iraqis over west Mosul. The ISF has done this before. It’s meant to bolster the morale of the population, which are suffering major shortages. At the same time, it undermines the control of IS over the people.
Save the Children had people call their relatives who were in west Mosul. One said his family had no food or water. They were afraid that starvation would set upon the city during the fighting. Some people were going door to door begging for food they were so desperate. Another said there was no health care available. One person said their family members had tried to escape, but were caught and executed with 20 others. Just getting in contact with family has become harder as IS has confiscated phones and killed people found with them.
Various small armed groups have been fighting the militants for months now inside Mosul. On February 22 Kaitab al-Mosul said they shot and killed two senior IS members and ambushed a patrol. These organizations do not pose a military threat to the Islamic State’s control, but they undermine their authority and show that not everyone in the city was a sympathizer as some have argued.
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AIN, “Urgent Rapid Reaction Division frees Ghazlani camp south of Mosul,” 2/21/17
Bas News, “Mosul: Iraqi Troops Storm Biggest Military Camp in North,” 2/20/17
BBC, “Mosul offensive now focused on city’s airport,” 2/22/17
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- “Urgent.. begin security operation attacking outposts on the northern areas of the Baghdad road,” 2/23/17
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