Peshmerga forces launched heavy attacks on ISIS militants on Sunday in order to capture the city of Mosul, the headquarters of ISIS in Iraq.
According to Reuters, the Kurdish Peshmerga moved in after a U.S.-led coalition delivered massive air strikes and heavy shelling to ISIS militants in Wardak, a place about 19 miles southeast of Mosul. ISIS fought back with suicide bombs and firing mortars, while civilians ran toward Peshmerga lines carrying white flags.
Witnesses to the fighting have seen plumes of smoke rising from the area and tanks moving across a field.
More than 100 ISIS militants were killed in the battles. Military officials believe that the Iraqi Army and Peshmerga forces are pushing any remaining ISIS militants in Iraq back into Mosul.
“ISIS is not as strong as it used to be and most of its fighters were killed [in today’s offensive],” said Mansour Barzani, a commander in the Kurdish special forces.
Peshmerga Brig. Gen. Dedewan Khurshid Tofiq said the operation outside Mosul is “ongoing.”
Mosul is the last remaining stronghold for the Islamic State in Iraq. The fall of ISIS in Mosul would be a significant victory for Iraq. It was in Mosul’s Grand Mosque when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” encompassing the regions of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Although it was reported by some Middle Eastern media outlets that al-Baghdadi had been killed in an airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, no one can confirm this.
The Kurdish region’s Security Council said in a statement that Peshmerga forces are planning to “clear several more villages” in “one of many shaping operations” which will place increasing pressure on ISIS, according to the Associated Press. They have already taken five villages east of Mosul.
“The villages of Qarqasha, Qaradag, Setyh, Shanaf, Tal Hamid, Abzakh, al-Hamrah, Omar Mendan, and Sayyud Hayyasi were freed today,” Renas Rasheed of the Zeravani Peshmerga told Rudaw.
Together, the Iraqi Army and Peshmerga forces of the Kurdish self-rule region of Iraq have been effectively and gradually taking up territory from ISIS on its way to defeat the militants entirely in Iraq. Taking Mosul from ISIS would signify the fall of ISIS in Iraq, says Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The Iraqi Army is approaching from the south of Mosul and focusing on the Qayyara airfield, which it captured in July. It will likely stage its offensive tactics from here.
Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the militant group, believes the work for the offensive on Mosul “is approaching the final phase.”
A Peshmerga commander said 11 villages had been taken by ISIS. Peshmerga troops were headed to Gwer, a town 25 miles southeast of Mosul. Militants had previously destroyed a bridge which crossed the Grand Zab river. If the Peshmerga can repair the bridge, they will be able to surround Mosul.
Mansour Barzani said, “Regaining control of Gwer Bridge will have an important role in coming offensives.”
It is expected that once the fighting intensifies around Mosul, many people will flee the heavily populated area. Up to 1 million people may flee the danger, giving way to “a massive humanitarian problem,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said last month.
Already more than 3.4 million people have fled their homes in places which have come under control of ISIS in Iraq, taking refuge in places under control of the government or in the region of the Kurds.
As the world watches and waits for news of the fall of ISIS in Mosul, the region continuously braces for the arrival of refugees from Mosul.
[Photo by Alice Martins/AP Images, File]