The long-awaited offensive to free Mosul from ISIS began early on Monday. Forces led by Iraqi troops backed by Kurdish fighters, U.S.-led coalition air and ground support launched the offensive on the city of Mosul, to liberate it from the terror of ISIS.
The Start of the offensive on Mosul was announced by the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a televised address earlier in the day. He said, “Today I declare the start of the heroic operations to liberate Mosul from Daesh (ISIS).”
He further added, “God willing we will meet in Mosul to celebrate the liberation and your salvation from ISIS (IS) so we can live together once again, all religions united and together we shall defeat Daesh to rebuild this dear city of Mosul.”
Mosul is the last stronghold of Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. Mosul, which is the second largest city in Iraq, was captured by Daesh in June, 2014, when it defeated two divisions of the Iraqi army and seized US-supplied weapons.
Mosul is a strategic city for ISIS as it links Iraq and Syria. Additionally, Mosul is a moral and human reservoir for the IS. The capture of Mosul was a launchpad for ISIS to gain notoriety for the first time in 2014. According to a former ISIS commander, Mosul is of great significance for the fighters, and they will fight fiercely to hold it.
ISIS will be defeated in Iraq, if and when Mosul is recaptured by the Iraqi forces. The fight will also test Iraq’s ability to remain united. Mosul is a cultural hotbed of Iraq, with several ethnic minorities living in the region.
ISIS has about 4,000 to 8,000 fighters defending the city. On the other hand, 30,000 strong pro-Government Iraqi forces are preparing for the battle. Four thousand Kurdish Peshmerga militia will fight around Mosul and recapture villages.
The Kurdish forces will not enter the city of Mosul due to their concern for “sectarian sensitivities.” The Kurdish fighters will be launching the first offensive and securing positions behind the front lines. They have already taken control of main roads leading to Mosul and seven other villages.
Shia-led paramilitary forces and will also take part in the battle. US Special Operations personnel are advising the forces on the ground. Elite Iraqi counterterrorism forces will be joining the fight in the coming days.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, “The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Mosul, Iraq in the difficult fight ahead,” as reported by Wall Street Journal.
ISIS has blamed the US for bombing al-Hurriya Bridge on Sunday. The destruction of this bridge will prevent ISIS fighters from escaping Mosul. There were no clear reports on who was responsible for bombing the bridge.
Mosul which was a home to more than 2 million people at one point of time still has a population of about a 1.5 million. Stephen O’Brien, UN’s under-secretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said as follows.
“I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted.”
ISIS has already started setting oil wells on fire and booby trapping the city. The residents of Mosul were advised by the agencies to remain indoors and out of certain parts of the city. ISIS is suspected to have heavily mined the roads leading to the city.
According to The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Mosul Offensive will lead to a humanitarian crisis with up to a million refugees fleeing. ISIS, on the other hand, has banned people from fleeing the city. It has established checkpoints at outward roads to prevent people from leaving.
For the innocent civilians of Mosul, the days to come will be difficult. Fleeing would mean navigating through minefields and risking punishments by Isis. Staying back could mean air strikes, street battles, and being used as human shields by ISIS.
The Mosul offensive against Isis is expected to last weeks if not months. The main battle within the city of Mosul as anticipated by experts will begin by late November or early December. Both Iraqi and Coalition forces believe civilian in the city will be a tricky factor.
Wolfgang Gressmann Norwegian Refugee Council’s Country Director in Iraq said, “Establishing genuinely safe routes out of the city for civilians is now the top priority; nothing is more important.”
[Featured Image by Adam Schreck/AP Images]