Video of continued fighting in Old City. Gunshots, tank fire, helicopters overhead shooting at Old City district West Mosul from across Tigris River. (Nabih Bulos)
Heavy fighting continued in the Old City district of west Mosul five days after the city was declared liberated. The Iraqi forces (ISF) have banned reporters in the area, and not released much about what is going on so the Iraqi press has been largely silent on the continuation of combat. Reinforcements were sent in with three units from the Rapid Reaction forces joining the Golden Division to clear out the last Islamic State elements who were said to be hiding in tunnels in the district. Nabih Bulos from the Los Angeles Times went to the eastern side of the Tigris River across from the Old City and filmed an Abrams tank and helicopters firing into the district. Constant gunfire could be heard as well. The ISF claims they are just mopping up the last remnants of the insurgents, but the amount of firepower deployed would point to things being more serious. Five times the ISF told Prime Minister Haidar Abadi that the city was freed when it wasn’t. Abadi showed up in the city to give his victory speech when he was informed that the city was not cleared yet. He waited a day, and then gave his address, but things were not settled yet. Fighting will likely continue for several more days with most of the country none to the wise.
Military parade in Baghdad’s Green Zone celebrating victory in Mosul (Kurdistan 24)
To add to that point, Baghdad held a victory parade in the Green Zone. Premier Abadi presided over an array of tanks and soldiers marching in front of his stand. For most of Iraq this is a time of celebration even though it is premature.
In the rest of Mosul there were clearing operations going on. Five IS were killed trying to cross the Tigris River and escape the Old City by the Fourth Bridge. The Joint Operations Command claimed that 250 IS members have been arrested in west Mosul. If fighting were truly over in the city these would be the types of duties the ISF would be doing with occasional flare up with IS elements that didn’t want to surrender, not using tanks and helicopters.
Iraqi propaganda was still going. General Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah from the Ninewa Operations Command announced that 10,000 IS fighters were killed in west Mosul. When the attack on the western side of the city began several Iraqi generals and the U.S. Coalition seemed to agree that there were around 2,000 IS elements left. This is another example of the Iraqi death inflation that has been chronic over the last three years. When a battle begins the ISF are always claiming there are only a few insurgents left, but then when things are over the original figures are usually amplified two to five times higher. This is all part of the government’s victory narrative that constantly demands the highest casualty figures and the biggest advances being made each day of a major campaign.
IS picture with captured T55 tank in Imam al-Gharbi which the insurgents have held for 10 days now against the Iraqi forces (via Pawel Wojcik)
For the tenth day, the Iraqi forces were attempting to re-capture Imam al-Gharbi in the Qayara district southeast of Mosul. Three days ago, the ISF launched an operation to re-take the town, but it has been slow going. July 15 was the first time that Coalition air strikes were reported. Originally, the Iraqis claimed that only around 150 militants seized the town in a broad attack across five villages. The amount of time that they have held out against the ISF probably means a lot more fighters were involved. This is turning into a major battle, but the Iraqis are trying to play it down as they would rather talk about the liberation of Mosul instead.
The Washington Post wrote about the people waiting to recover the bodies of their loved ones in Mosul. Civil Defense teams are responsible for clearing the rubble and retrieving bodies. Sometimes they are too damaged to be identified, but other times the families know where their relatives died, and are waiting for them to be dug up. This is another hardship the people of the city must suffer through.
More stories of vigilante justice against IS suspects were emerging. The latest came from the Guardian. Bodies have been washing up along the shore of the Tigris River in Qayara southeast of Mosul. Many were bound and blindfolded. They started showing up several months ago, but have recently increased. Back in April 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) first reported on these incidents. The cadavers probably do not come from Mosul because the ISF set up a barricade in the river to stop IS escapes or infiltrations to the city. One soldier showed the Guardian a video claiming to be him and his friends killing an IS member. The Telegraph had a similar story of executions going on inside Mosul. As the campaign has wound down there are more and more of these reports. HRW believed that as victory drew closer the Iraqi forces became more brazen and more public about their abuses. At first, there were bodies showing up. Now there are videos of executions by the ISF. The government does absolutely nothing about these reports. Sometimes it claims it will investigate. Other times a committee might be formed, but the reality is that the ISF can act with impunity because there is no real rule of law. The only time Iraqis seem to care about these cases is when the western press reports them. Otherwise they are usually applauded on social media as revenge against IS that caused such trauma in the nation.
In the Ninewa Plains two rival militias got into a shootout. In Hamdaniya, the Babylon Brigades engaged in a firefight with the Ninewa Plains Protection Units over the former stealing weapons and supplies from the latter. When the Iraqis freed the plains, they didn’t have the forces to hold it. That has led to a multiplicity of militias to be formed by competing parties to control the area. The Babylon Brigades are a Hashd unit made up of Shabaks and Shiite Arabs brought by the Badr Organization to Ninewa. The Ninewa Plains Protection Units on the other hand are a Christian organization that is connected to the Hashd, but independent of their command structure. It has gotten some assistance from the U.S. The confrontation between the two is a result of the tensions and competition between all the different groups that operate in the province. With Baghdad largely absent these groups can do what they want, and there is no one to mediate or punish anyone when violence breaks out.
Comparison Mosul hospital and hotel in Shifa neighborhood west Mosul Nov 2015 (top) vs Jul 2017 (botom) (Washington Post)
Besides security reconstruction will be another major issue in the governorate. The U.S. State Department estimated that it could take up to a decade to clear all the explosives from Mosul at a cost of around $200 million. The United Nations believes that 10,000 buildings, 8,5000 of which are homes, and 100 kilometers of roads in Mosul need repair based upon satellite analysis. That doesn’t even include all the damage as some cannot be picked up from overheard observation. The government has Civil Defense forces that are clearing the rubble from streets, and work units to fill in potholes. The rest however, needs to be contracted out, and will come on top of the estimated $1 billion necessary to restore services like water, electricity, sewage, and schools. Baghdad doesn't have the funds for this now, and is hoping that loans, aid and private investment will cover the costs, but Iraq has received very little so far, so this reconstruction may drag out for years over the lack of funds.
With most of the fighting over in Mosul there are still people fleeing their homes in Ninewa. Most of the displaced (IDPs) now arriving at Hamam al-Alil the main screening center are coming from Hawija in Kirkuk, one of the last areas in the country under IS control. No one is coming out of Mosul anymore, because for the last few days they have gone directly to east Mosul via a pontoon bridge over the Tigris River. Agence France Presse talked with IDPs in a displaced camp who said they had nothing to go back to because their homes had been destroyed. The U.N. and the Norwegian Refugee Council warned that many families will stay in IDP camps for months because they have no domiciles and there are no services in west Mosul. Another important factor is that the IS attacks have scared many people from going back because they fear for their safety. 200,000 people have returned to the city so far, but that is almost all to the east, which was not as heavily damaged and where life is largely back to normal with various shortages. Many from the west are now staying there as well. The western section however has had much more extensive damage leaving many people without a place to stay. Add to that the fact that rents are skyrocketing in the city due to demand, and the displacement crisis is likely to last for quite some time.
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