The third day of the last phase of the Battle for Mosul saw fighting on all fronts, with limited progress. The Federal Police moved 100 more meters into Zinjali for a total of 400 meters. Most of the Islamic State fighters in the neighborhood were said to have retreated to the Old City. There was continued clashes in that district and Saha where reinforcements were sent in. The Iraqi air force once again leafletted the city telling people to flee through safe corridors set up by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Originally, the government told the population to stay within the city because neither it nor aid agencies had the capacity to deal with them. That greatly complicated the battle and has led to huge casualties. Baghdad has finally changed tact and is now telling citizens to leave to make way for the ISF.
Iraqis were being overly optimistic as usual about the operation. A major from the Golden Division told The Telegraph the battle would be over in twelve days by June 10. Other ISF sources were saying it would be less than a week. Prime Minister Haider Abadi visited the troops in the city, and promised that victory was pending soon. Iraqi propaganda is always pushing constant progress and victories, and with the climax of the battle at hand that hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, the fighting has been much tougher than the official announcements and may last longer than these latest predictions.
The Hashd finally reached the Syrian border in western Ninewa. Three towns were freed, while fighters reached the center of Baaj. According to Hashd leader Shaikh Sami al-Masoudi a ditch would be dug along the Iraq-Syrian border to secure the area. A Hezbollah Nujaba commander went further saying his forces were ready to move into Syria if permitted by Baghdad. Many of the Hashd units involved in the west Ninewa campaign such as Nujaba, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, and Badr already have men operating in Syria supporting the Assad government and being coordinated and organized by Iran. Many have talked about crossing the border with official authorization as the pro-Iranian groups consider both conflicts a single war. While the Abadi government has said nothing about the thousands of Iraqis going to fight in Syria, and has increased cooperation with Damascus it is unclear whether they would allow its forces to directly move into its neighbor’s territory.
As the Hashd gained more ground in western Ninewa they continue to be criticized. The latest came from Haidar Sesho a Yazidi militia leader. He said that the Hashd was a threat to security and stability in Sinjar. If they were to free villages and then turn them over to locals and leave that would be welcomed, but if they stayed they would cause problems. Sesho’s comments were important because he is not aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that runs the Sinjar district. All the previous remarks against the Hashd have come from KDP or KDP aligned officials. In fact, the KDP arrested Sesho for setting up his own armed force and working with Baghdad. The two sides have since made a rough détente.
The second Iranian Revolutionary Guard general was killed in Iraq yesterday assisting the Hashd in the Baaj area. Iran’s Foreign Ministry commented that it was not supporting the Hashd in Ninewa, but then said that it was advising the forces. This was a classic example of double talk denying and confirming its role in Iraq at the same time. Tehran was the first to aid to Iraq when the Islamic State seized Mosul in the summer of 2014. It immediately sent in members of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij, provided attack aircraft and pilots, and even moved into Diyala in large numbers to secure the border there. Like the Americans, Baghdad does not admit that there are foreign troops within its territory, which was why the Foreign Ministry said it was only acting as advisers.
Aid groups continued to be concerned that there will be a huge flood of people out of Mosul now that the last push is underway. There are an estimated 180,000 civilians in the few districts under IS control. In the past few days the outflow from the city has decreased to an average of 4,000 per day, compared to over 10,000 last week. At the same time, a smaller number of people are leaving camps and returning to their home areas or at least to Mosul until their residences are liberated Over 2,700 departed camps on May 28. There are always people moving in and out of the city. Lots simply want out of camps where their movement is severely restricted and there are few jobs. There is also a secondary migration going on as others who have gone back to Mosul have found life too difficult there with no employment and services and then left a second time. With the city almost freed another large movement back is just upon the horizon.
The Ninewa Plains are one of the historic homelands of Iraqi Christians and they are not waiting for the government to rebuild their towns. The Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need’s Commission for the Reconstruction of Nineveh is organizing workers to reconstruct five towns in the province. They have a huge task ahead of them as the estimated cost of repairs of just one home range from $7,000-$65,000 depending upon the damage. In two towns the group is working in, Telleskof and Bakofa the work will be light, but in Batnaya 80% of the homes are believed to be destroyed. The authorities originally claimed they had a reconstruction plan for Ninewa, but they later admitted they didn’t. Both the provincial and central governments are also hoping that the United Nations and U.S. led Coalition will foot a large part of the bill since the government is running a large budget deficit with low oil prices. That’s not going to happen as Washington has said it will not be nation building, and the U.N. doesn’t even have money to fund its current operations in Iraq. That leaves communities to fend for themselves as these Christian towns are doing. That will mean many areas will remain destroyed for a long time as funds are scarce all around, and the costs are so high.
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