What is Happening In Mosul?
Iraqi forces, aligned with local tribal units, Kurdish peshmerga fighters, and U.S. Special Operations troops began the operation to wrest the city of Mosul from the claws of the Islamic State this week. As the nearly 100,000-strong coalition crept closer to the city proper on Wednesday, villages on its fringe are being liberated, fierce battles are being fought, and some citizens are fleeing their homes for neighboring Syria.
However, ISIS is not ceding control of the outlying villages without a fight. In Qaraqosh, a Christian village 30 kilometers east of Mosul, ISIS militants and an Iraqi-led force exchanged heavy gunfire, a general involved in the fight told CNN. He said ISIS forces are concentrated in the center of the village, as parts of the fringes have been liberated, while airstrikes rain down to support the Iraqi-led troops. Reuters reported that villages just outside of the city are booby trapped with tunnels and bombs.
In June 2014, Iraqi forces fled Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city with a population upwards of two million, ceding control of the city to ISIS. The jihadist group has ruled the city under a strict Islamic code ever since. Women are forced to be covered in public, smoking and drinking alcohol is prohibited, and minor offenses could result in a beheading. The offensive, announced by Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi early Monday morning, is expected to take months.
Once Mosul is free from ISIS control, it’s unclear how power will transition and to whom exactly it will transition to. Many of the city’s residents are Sunni Muslims, while the bulk of the Iraqi government are Shia. Years of sectarian tensions between Sunni citizens and Shia leaders has led to deep mistrust. In addition, the Iraqi government is concerned that the Kurds, who are helping them in the fight against ISIS, might seek to control the city themselves after ISIS is forced out.
“We would have loved to have a political plan along with a military plan, how to manage Mosul, how to administer Mosul, because Mosul has a variety of religions, with ethnicities,” Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani told CNN. Acknowledging a political plan “would have taken a longer time,” Barzani said that the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces are looking for a “good solution” for Mosul.
The good news is that Mosul is the last large city under ISIS control in Iraq, and retaking it could deliver a knockout blow to the group’s operations in Iraq and beyond.