Friday, June 30, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 256 Jun 29 2017

Destruction in Old City west Mosul (Iraq News Center)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) made a huge symbolic victory finally capturing the Nouri Mosque and making other advances in west Mosul. Ninewa We Are Coming commander General Abdul Amir Rasheed Yarallah announced that the mosque and the Islamic State’s headquarters in Sargkhana, both in the Old City, were freed by the ISF. Bab Lakash, Bab al-Jadid and Bab al-Baid, which has been declared liberated twice, were still under siege, and the government’s troops were also moving towards Makawi and Shahar Suq. To the north Shifa was said to have been captured for the fourth time. According to the government the capture of the Nouri Mosque meant that the Islamic State’s caliphate was coming to an end. That was where IS declared its state three years ago. After three months of heavy fighting the ISF finally seized it. These latest advances still leave roughly half of the Old City under insurgent control.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 255 Jun 28 2017

The Iraqi forces have completed the first phase of the Old City battle, dividing the district in two and taking the western section. Green = liberated, Red = contested, Gold = IS control (Ninewa Media Center)

There were more advances in the Old City district of west Mosul by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The Federal Police seized Hkatoniya and Katunya in the center and were heading towards Farouq Street, an area that was said to be freed before, while the army’s 16th Division took Hadra al-Sadaa and Ahmadiya in the north. The Iraqi forces (ISF) were also pushing towards the south at Bab al-Bawab, Arjkhana, Bab al-Jadid, and Bab al-Lakash, and east into Farouq 2. Federal Police Chief General Raed Shakir Jawadat claimed that 70% of the Old City was now under government control. The ISF have completed the first part of its strategy for the district. The north to south thrust has been accomplished now giving the government forces control of most of the western half of the district. The final move is from west to east to reach the Tigris and again divide the Old City in two. Units are also moving along the northern and southern perimeter to finish off the pincer move. That will divide the defenders into smaller, and more manageable groups to destroy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 254 Jun 27 2017

Federal Police officer fighting in the rubble of the Old City in west Mosul (Reuters)

Iraqi advances in west Mosul have been steady, while a recent counter attack by the Islamic State in liberated areas of the city has slowed them down. The army’s 15th Division is moving along the northern axes of the Old City and freed Mashahda in the northwest corner of the district. The Federal Police are working along the southern edge of the Old City and down the middle. They freed Bab al-Baid for the second time and Ras al-Jadda. Federal Police commander General Raed Shakir Jawadat said his forces were pushing towards Qurnish along the Tigris River, which would bisect the district in two. At the same time, units from the Golden Division were diverted to Yarmouk, Tanak, and Rajam al-Hadeed where IS launched a surprise attack on June 25. Seven IS fighters were killed in Yarmouk, and the Iraqi forces (ISF) were carrying out mass arrests there, Tanak, and two other neighboring areas. The cordon around the Old City was also tightened to try to prevent any infiltrations by insurgents. Finally, the army’s 9th Division was still attempting to seize the Republican Hospital and other buildings in Shifa, which is to the north of the Old City. Overall, the War Media Cell announced that 50% of the Old City was now under government control, and IS down to seven neighborhoods. On June 25, the Joint Operations Command claim IS had six areas that somehow was only 1% of the Old City, while the Golden Division said 65-70% of the district was cleared. The ISF have made two big thrusts into the Old City to divide it into quarters while others are moving along the north and south perimeter. Progress has been on going, but slow. The IS pocket is collapsing, but it is still putting up a hefty fight. With victory around the corner however, Iraqi propaganda has gone into overdrive with constant stories of IS being done, the fight almost being over, and the constant shifting and contradictory reports on how much is left to be done.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 253 Jun 26 2017

Comparison of June 24 vs June 26 shows latest advances by Iraqi forces in Old City (Ninewa Media Center)

Mosul was still recovering from the surprise attack by Islamic State sleeper cells in three liberated areas of west Mosul. On June 25 IS elements attacked Tanak, Yarmouk and Rajam al-Hadeed in the western section of west Mosul. There were only a few fighters, maybe 20 or more, but they were able to sow a huge amount of chaos. They set fire to cars and buildings, and led to hundreds of people to flee. The Golden Division was called in to kill and capture the insurgents. Yarmouk was surrounded, a curfew imposed, some remaining IS members were holding hostages inside a house, and there might have been scattered clashes still going on as well. The Iraqi forces (ISF) were conducting mass arrests in nearby Rashidiya in fears of more IS cells operating there. An investigation was launched by the ISF to discover what happened. Preliminary press reports found that Tanak was supposed to be held by a tribal Hashd unit, but actually had no security for the last twenty days.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 252 Jun 25 2017

Last two days various ISF sources have claimed 50-99% of Old City is freed none of which are supported by latest government map of progress in Old City.  (Ninewa Media Cell)

Smoke hangs in sky from surprise attack by IS in liberated Tanak neighborhood while civilians attempt to flee (Iraq Newspaper)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) predicted that they would have all of Mosul liberated by June 25 the start of Eid. Without having achieved that it made a series of exaggerated propaganda releases. First, a lieutenant colonel from the Golden Division claimed that 65-70% of the Old City was under government control. Then the Joint Operations Command announced that the Islamic State only held 1% of the district. That might have been a mistranslation meaning only 1% of west Mosul, but you can never tell with Iraqi statements. None of these claims were supported by the latest map released by the government, which shows little progress over the last few days.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Musings On Iraq In The News

I was cited in “Competing Interests in Shingal District: Examining the PKK-linked Structures, Defusing Tensions,” by Tomas Kavalek for the Middle East Research Institute, and in "Obstacles To Return In Retaken Areas Of Iraq" by the International Organization For Migration. My interview with journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg on the dispute over Sinjar was republished in eKurd.

Mosul Campaign Day 251 Jun 24 2017

Families fleeing the fighting in west Mosul (AFP)

June 24 was another slow day of advances for the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in west Mosul. The Federal Police said it freed Bab al-Baid, one of the entrances to the Old City district. Other Federal Police units were pushing into the center of the district towards Farouq Street and the Omar al-Aswad Mosque. The Golden Division were also on the outskirts of the Nouri Mosque, which the Islamic State recently destroyed. A general from the division claimed that 50% of the Old City was now under government control and would be liberated in 10 days. To the north of the Old City the Rapid Reaction Division was still fighting to take the Republican Hospital and sections of the medical complex in the Shifa neighborhood. The ISF and Iraqi government are being overly optimistic as usual predicting that Mosul would be freed in days and overstating how much was taken from the insurgents. The government’s own maps of the Old City for example do not show half of it freed. There are likely a few more weeks of hard combat left before liberation can be proclaimed.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 250 Jun 23 2017

Movement in west Mosul was slow for the day. The Federal Police freed a church in Bab al-Baid, one of the entrances to the Old City district, and were still working their way through Farouq. There was heavy fighting in Bab al-Lakash, Sargakhana, and a few others areas of the district as well. Shifa, which is north of the Old City along the Tigris River was declared freed two times before, but the Rapid Reaction Division is still struggling to clear some buildings there in the medical complex. Overall, the Iraq authorities are hoping to declare the city freed by Eid, which is only a few days away. That’s probably being overly optimistic as there is still a lot of hard fighting ahead.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 249 Jun 22 2017

What’s left of the Al-Hadbaa minaret west Mosul after IS blew it up (BBC)

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were still pushing into the Old City of Mosul from multiple directions, and struggling over Shifa. The Federal Police were fighting over Bab Lakash and Bab al-Baid, two of the entrances to the district, and received reinforcements as well. The Golden Division held 60% of the Mashdah area, which is where the destroyed Nouri Mosque is located. The Defense Ministry officially declared the Shifa neighborhood north of the Old City freed, but in fact, the Rapid Reaction Division was still attempting to take some buildings in the medical complex. The ISF are always over anxious to publicize its victories, and that also leads to many situations like these where an area is called cleared when it’s not.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 248 Jun 21 2017

(Baghdad Post)
(Ninewa Media Center)

As the battle for Mosul comes to a close the Islamic State destroyed the iconic Nouri Mosque and al-Hadbaa Minaret. IS blew up the historic site, while claiming that an American airstrike was responsible. The destruction of the mosque was due to the rapid advance of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), which were said to be only meters away. The Federal Police were moving from the south on Bab al-Jadid and Ras al-Jada. The Golden Division and the army’s 16th Division were in the northwest in Farouq. The Rapid Reaction Division was coming down from Shifa in the northeast, which was recently freed. The army’s 9th Division was doing clearing duties in that neighborhood, and then will move along the Tigris River. The strategy is to attack upon multiple fronts and converge towards the middle dividing the Old City into several sections, which will then be swept through.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 246-47 Jun 19-20 2017

Iraqi police fighting in west Mosul’s Old City (AFP)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) made another advance, while the Islamic State is down to just one district under its control in Mosul. First, the army’s 9th Division announced that the Shifa neighborhood was finally freed. That allowed the ISF to also take the western end of the Fifth Bridge across the Tigris River. The Federal Police were still fighting for Bab al-Baid, attacked Bab al-Lakash, and advanced 200 meters into the Farouq area all in the Old City. The Golden Division freed Khazraj in that district as well. The insurgents launched another counter attack into Danadan south of the Old City, but was turned back. Shifa was a difficult battle, holding up the Iraqi forces for almost a month. With that finally under control, IS only holds the Old City. It will likely be the hardest part of the entire campaign because the streets are so narrow military vehicles cannot traverse them, the houses are so densely laid out that artillery, mortars and air strikes will likely take a heavy civilian toll, and the militants have nowhere to go, and will fight to the death. There are already signs of that as more than 200 bodies were said to have been pulled out of the rubble caused by ISF air strikes and artillery over the last few days.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sinjar Dispute Between The Hashd and Kurdistan Democratic Party Interview With Journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg


Sinjar in west Ninewa has become a flashpoint between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Hashd (PMU) and Yazidis after the Hashd liberated the remaining villages in the district from the Islamic State starting at the end of May 2017. The KDP immediately condemned the Hashd’s presence leading to a war of words between the two. Journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg recently travelled to the district. Here is an interview about what he saw. He can be followed on Twitter @vvanwilgenburg.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 245 Jun 18 2017

Smoke rising from new assault upon Old City district West Mosul (Bas News)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) finally launched a multi-pronged assault upon the Old City district in west Mosul. The operation started at 6 am. Two brigades from the Golden Division moved into Farouq in the northwest, while the army’s 16th Division advanced from Bab al-Sinjar and Bab al-Lakash in the north. A Federal Police brigade attacked Bab al-Baid in the southwest. They claimed they broke through the first two lines of the Islamic State’s defenses, while the Golden Division said progress was slow due to the dense layout of the streets and houses and the large number of civilians. IS launched four counter attacks consisting of car bombs and suicide bombers, but were turned back. The Iraqis were struggling over the medical complex in Shifa as well. Leaflets were dropped over the city by the Iraqi air force telling people that the ISF was coming, while loudspeakers blasted messages that the insurgents should surrender, and civilians should flee towards the Iraqi forces. Shifa and the Old City are the last two sections of the city still under the militants’ control. The latter was originally attacked in March, and the ISF quickly bogged down, and became a holding force to tie down IS fighters, while others moved up the flank and eventually to the north as well. Shifa was targeted when the latest offensive started at the end of May and the Iraqi forces have been stuck in the medical center that consists of several hospitals. Both are now under attack meaning the Mosul campaign is finally coming to a conclusion.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Musings On Iraq In The News

Mosul Campaign Day 244 Jun 17 2017

Father and his brother search dead bodies in west Mosul looking for his son (Voice of America)

There was fighting across the two remaining areas in west Mosul under Islamic State control. First, the Golden Division had to call off an attack upon Shifa due to heavy fire from IS, especially snipers in hospital buildings and the use of human shields. The Federal Police claimed to have taken Hospital Street in the neighborhood. Unofficially, a Federal Police Captain told Bas News they were in control of 70% of the neighborhood, while another police officer went further saying all of Shifa was freed. June 16, the police were only supposed to have 30-35% of the area, which was below the 60% mentioned on June 11. The Rapid Reaction Division assaulted Tal Zalat, which is one of the entrances to the Old City. Police reinforcements also arrived outside Bab al-Jadid and in Bab al-Sinjar two other ways into the Old City. When the new offensive started at the end of May the Iraqi forces (ISF) moved into the Shifa medical complex and immediately got ambushed by the insurgents and had to retreat. They have been struggling over the area ever since. That hasn’t stopped the Iraqis from claiming they controlled a varying amount of the neighborhood. The actual figure is impossible to say since it keeps going up and down. The Old City on the other hand, will be the last neighborhood taken on by the ISF. It has held up the police for four months or more now. It has a large civilian population, and the IS fighters have been able to successfully exploit the dense layout where armored vehicles are too large to traverse the streets to build formidable defense. The district will eventually fall, but it will be a bloody battle.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Musings On Iraq 9 Year Anniversary

Back in 2001 on September 11 I was watching CBS news with Dan Rather to catch upon the day’s terrorist attack. One of the guests was former CIA director James Woolsey who was part of the neoconservative movement in the United States. Woolsey spent his entire interview talking about how it was time for the United States to strike Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein even if he had nothing to do with the Al Qaeda attack. For whatever reason this stuck in my head as a very odd thing to say. By the end of the year I began to notice a growing number of reports in the press about the United States considering Iraq in the new war on terror. I decided then that I would find out why the Bush administration was going to war. By 2002 I was reading everything I could read about Iraq and posting long posts on message boards about the coming conflict. In 2008 I decided I should publish some of these thoughts and started this blog Musings On Iraq. Since then I have expanded my research to reading around 45 papers a day, reading all the reports and think tank pieces that come out about Iraq, networked with dozens of people who are involved in the country, and done 120 interviews. I would like to thank all those people who have helped me along the way and all the readers. In 9 years my site has gotten over 5.3 million hits. That wouldn’t be possible without all of you.

Mosul Campaign Day 243 Jun 16 2017

Picture of destruction in Rifai neighborhood west Mosul freed on May 17, 2017 (Baghdad Post)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued to have problems with their reporting. First, Bab al-Sinjar one of the northern entrances to the Old City district was officially declared freed yesterday. On June 16 however, three brigades from the army’s 9th Division seized a market there. To the north, the Federal Police said they held 30-35% of the Shifa neighborhood. This was despite the fact that the police have been fighting over the same area of Shifa since the end of May, and claimed that it held 60% back on June 11. The Rapid Reaction Division was still struggling over the Old City as well. The pressure from Baghdad to have daily reports of progress and victories is what leads to these contradictory stories and exaggerations.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 242 Jun 15 2017

Only two neighborhoods remain under Islamic State control in Mosul the Old City (large section in white) and Shifa (small section in white)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) were taking on one of the last two neighborhoods in Mosul under Islamic State control, while they officially announced another under government control. The Joint Operations Command officially declared Bab al-Sinjar one of the northern entrances to the Old City district freed. The Rapid Reaction Division and 9th Division were still attacking the medical center in Shifa. That area was originally entered at the end of May, but the Iraqi forces got ambushed by IS and driven off. Some reports have the ISF holding up to 60% of the neighborhood, while others have them stuck in the medical center with little other progress, so that figure may be an exaggeration. Shifa and the Old City are the last two sections of the city under insurgent control. The latter will be the last to be taken, and will likely be the most difficult due to its dense layout and the fact that the insurgents have nowhere to go but die fighting.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 241 Jun 14 2017

A force of at least 100 Islamic State fighters moved from the Old City district (Sheik Abu Al Ula on map) down the Tigris River and attacked Danadan and Dawasa neighborhoods (bottom right of map) forcing police to temporarily retreat to the Mosul International Airport (bottom of map). Zinjali (top left corner) was finally freed by Iraqi forces on June 13. Iraqis are now trying to free Shifa (Shafaa on map) and its host of hospitals before attacking the Old City the last major section of Mosul under IS control. (Medecins Sans Frontieres)

The Islamic State launched a surprise attack upon the Iraqi forces in two neighborhoods in southern west Mosul. Starting at 3 am around 100 Islamic State fighters attacked the Danadan neighborhood coming out of the Old City district. The fighters moved along the Tigris River and opened with 7 car bombs from the front and 25 suicide bombers that hit the Federal Police from the rear. One police commander told the press there might have been up to 50 suicide bombers, but that figure might have just come from the heat of the battle with so many explosions going off. The Federal Police claimed that IS sleeper cells were responsible for the attacks from behind. The insurgents set fire to buildings to create smoke to try to prevent air strikes, took over a mosque to announce their presence, and executed 6 people. They were able to expand the attack into Dawasa and Nabi Sheet as well. The police were temporarily forced back to the Mosul airport outside of the city. By the afternoon, the Iraqi forces (ISF) and a spokesman for the U.S. led Coalition claimed that all the lost territory was re-captured. That was contradicted by a man who talked with the Washington Post who said there were still IS fighters on his block, and a Federal Police officer who told Reuters clashes continued. Throughout the Mosul battle the insurgents have been able to occasionally launch these large attacks and throw the ISF back on their heels.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 240 Jun 13 2017

Iraqis fleeing fighting in west Mosul (Reuters)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) made two advances in the final battle for Mosul. Zinjali was declared freed for the second time. The last few days the ISF have been contradicting themselves about whether the neighborhood was liberated or not. Bab al-Sinjar, one of the northern entrances to the Old City was also taken. That has shifted the heavy fighting to Shifa and the Old City district, both of which are along the Tigris River. The ISF are going to attack the latter from multiple directions with the army, police, and Golden Division. Shifa and the Old City are the only two sections of the city still under Islamic State control. The combat is incredibly intense due to the dense layout and the fact that the IS fighters have nowhere to go.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 239 Jun 12 2017

The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued to have problems with their press releases about the Mosul battle. On June 9, the Federal Police announced that it had freed the Zinjali neighborhood in the center of the city. Then on June 11 the Joint Operations Command corrected that saying only the southern half of the area was liberated. June 12 the Federal Police commander General Raed Shakir Jawadat doubled down and again claimed that all of Zinjali was under government control. That was contradicted by the fact that the Rapid Reaction Division head General Thamir al-Husseini said that his forces destroyed an Islamic State headquarters in Zinjali. Not only that but the ISF were fighting over a market in southern Zinjali, which showed that the entire neighborhood was still contested. Another area under attack was Shifa, which is next door. The ISF said they had made little progress, but then yesterday claimed they had 60% of Shifa under control. Such a sudden advance might have been another exaggeration. The main point of contention was the medical complex, which is in the northern section. The ISF attacked the area at the start of the new campaign at the end of May, but it was a trap set by the insurgents who drove the Iraqi forces out. Finally, the ISF were still fighting over Bab al-Sinjar that is one of the northern entrances to the Old City district. The Joint Operations Command also denied news reports that the ISF were near the Hadbaa minaret in the Old City. Every day the Iraqi forces have to announce victories in the war against the Islamic State. This constant pressure, and competition amongst the different units involved in the Mosul campaign leads to continuous embellishments, and sometimes false stories. These recent events were a perfect example.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Musings On Iraq In The News

Mosul Campaign Day 238 Jun 11 2017

The Iraqi forces (ISF) have been consistently inconsistent in their announcements about advances against the Islamic State and there were new examples of that in the Mosul battle. First, the War Media Cell said only the southern part of the Zinjali neighborhood in west Mosul was freed by the army’s 9th Division. The commander of the Federal Police claimed the entire area was taken on June 9. The Federal Police were removing explosives and looking for any insurgents that might have been left behind within the neighborhood. There was a new attack upon the Bab al-Sinjar entrance to the Old City district. The ISF have said they’ve been assaulting that area for days now. This raises the questions whether that really happened, whether this was just a new attack, or a new unit joined in. Finally, according to the Federal Police 50% of Shifa was taken. The Iraqi forces have a bad habit of claiming successes before they happen. That’s because of the constant pressure to have daily press releases about victories in the war. That leads to these types of situations where a neighborhood is called freed when it isn’t yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 237 Jun 10 2017

After freeing Zinjali yesterday the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were moving onto the Shifa neighborhood. Shifa is in central Mosul along the Tigris River. The ISF attacked the area at the start of the new offensive at the end of May seizing several hospitals, but that was a trap set by the Islamic State, which then drove the Iraqi forces out. An army brigade claimed it penetrated 50 meters into Shifa. The ISF are also trying to take Bab al-Sinjar, which is one of the entrances to the Old City district. Shifa and the Old City are the last two parts of the city that the insurgents hold.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 236 Jun 9 2017

Destruction wrought by fighting in Zinjali, West Mosul (AFP)

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) freed the second neighborhood in their final push on Mosul. The Federal Police announced that Zinjali was finally liberated. The ISF were also moving on Shifa where there has been no real progress so far. With this victory, there is just Shifa and the large Old Mosul district left under Islamic State control. At the start of the new offensive the ISF made a push into the Shifa medical district, but got ambushed by IS and were forced out. The Old City has held up the police for four months nw.

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