Assessing the much-anticipated Mosul battle against Islamic State


By Pramod Raj Sedhain.


After series of victories against Islamic State (IS) in Ramadi, Fallujah, Shirqat and beyond, Iraqi security forces have intensified the most complex operation to retake IS-held Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally announced the offensive to retake Mosul from IS on October 17.

Despite slow maneuver on the IS’s last stronghold Mosul, the initial battle has been progressing according to the plan. Many IS-occupied areas have been liberated in the outskirts of the city as local forces approaching Mosul from the southern and eastern side. Initial offensive against IS has remained highly tactical with intense focus on assessing IS battle tactics, strategy, resistance ability rather than focusing on quick ground gains.  

Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul has been Iraqi symbol of self-proclaimed caliphate since June 2014. IS announced a “Caliphate” from Mosul with its group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi self-proclaiming “the caliph” (leader for Muslims everywhere) after erasing Syria-Iraq boarders. Since then Mosul city has been their centre of ambition where they plan to break regional borders to set their ultimate aim to capture the globe.

Despite inevitably heading to be defeated in Mosul, their counter-attack in Kirkuk, Rutbah and suicide campaigns against Iraqi forces shows their remaining terrorist destruction capabilities. Fall of Mosul did not only paved the way for IS for a sweeping seizure of other strategic Iraqi cities but committed shocking barbarism and brutality including mass executions of civilians, killing, crucifixions, torture etc. Ultra-brutal terrorist group quest for reign of terror and fear in the captured territories of Iraq has back-fired with gradual retaliation of anti-IS forces under U.S. support.  

Various inclusive forces, including Iraqi National Army, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Sunni tribal fighters, Shia-led Hashd Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Unit), Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen etc are taking part against IS in Mosul. However, they will not enter the Mosul city but organize themselves just outside the core area. This operation plan shows the government’s seriousness to prevent possible sectarian conflict.

In Mosul, IS will not able to reinforce its fighters anymore. Reasons are many that include they have gradually lost their morale to fight. Most importantly, shortage of fighters and weapons will definitely lead to retreat and defeat in Mosul. With limited resources, IS fighters will have to give up ultimately. Iraqi forces are prepared to overcome for every obstacle with the coordination of intelligence agency that makes them easy to hit IS key targets, fortifications and hideouts. Iraqi forces’ logistics, maintenance, advise, and other necessary resources and preparation show that there will not be military setback in Mosul. The defeat is certain.

Intensive US-led air campaign and use of others heavy weaponry will break the IS key defensive lines. IS will not be able to boost its militants’ motivation on the ground because of lack of significant supply and reinforcement routes, Acute shortage of logistics, lack of decisive counter attack power will lead to extensive internal pressure and possibility of defection within the fighters. Crumbling IS Iraq’s stronghold Mosul has been cut off from all Iraqi sides but various Iraqi factions have managed significant reinforcement on the frontline.

Ground circumstance is not favorable for IS. It has been deteriorating its military capabilities after series of losses on the ground in Iraq and Syria. IS still faces multi-front battle in Syria even its so-called capital Raqqa is under enemy range of attack anytime. Turkish-backed free Syrian rebels has continued rapid gains against IS in border areas. IS has not only suffered significant loss in multiple grounds in Syria but also effetely lost its supply lines from Turkey. Recently IS has lost grip on symbolic Syrian city of Dabiq, 10km (6 miles) from the Turkey border, where their propaganda outlets promised a decisive final battle against its enemies.

IS will take all measures to slow down the advancement of Iraqi forces and will try to check them entering the city but their effort will not block the momentum of Iraqi forces. ISIS will certainly be defeated. However, what cannot be ignored is their thought resistance from its hopeless militants. They could engage bloody fight and rely on suicide attacks. They have already started unprecedented suicide bombings and other means of terrorist attacks. But the Iraqi forces are accustomed to most of the IS tactics since the bloody battle began two years back. ISIS fighters have no option than either to surrender, flee or get killed. Hand to hand combat, house-to-house searches and other unconventional warfare could take more time.

A bloody warfare is expected but since IS has enormously weakened they cannot hold the city for a longer period of time. Clearance operations will be the most difficult task but it depends on intelligence. Mosul’s warfare scenario depends on how Intelligence closely watches over the group inside the city. If there is lack of extensive intelligence network inside Mosul further operation will be dangerous. The group’s influence over Mosul will certainly deteriorate but it all depends how much the Iraqi detective intelligence demonstrates their capability.

Brutal suppression of people’s reaction will be another vital aspect of operation. We cannot easy assess the Mosul battle without seeing it. Series of revolts and resistance against IS can be intelligence-backed and if these uprising will be able to form an organized Sunni resistance network within the IS-held Mosul, liberation of this city will be much sooner than expected.  

U.S-led coalition has no direct combat role but has deployed various compositions to support the ongoing offensive, including training, advising, coordinating, and intelligence-gathering, among others. But U.S special forces are prepared to fight side-by-side with the Iraqi and Kurds forces if necessary. U.S. ground military operation in Mosul has not got any formal request from the Iraqi side but they have already targeted numerous direct ground raids against IS. Such direct military actions doesn’t hold public acknowledgement but eliminate dangerous terrorist threats and core leaders.

IS has no direct warfare capabilities but is using unconventional terrorism tactics. They have already started suicide campaign, infiltration targeted assassination, use of violence against public in government held cities, intimidation, running underground terrorist networks, booby traps, mining etc. Major concern of the operation is the safety of the civilians who are trapped under harsh terrorist control and are used as human shields, use civilian places as weapons storage and command centers, potential risk of use crude chemical materials against security forces and other means to disturb the operation.

Just a matter of several weeks IS will be certainly defeated in Mosul but they still have the thoughts to win back the city. Fall of Mosul means not only to lose the key front but to lose the entire battle psychologically for this declining terrorist group. Possibilities are that the IS can flee towards Syria’s strongholds and regroup to escalate further terrorist campaign. Even if the IS loses the battle of Mosul, they can still preserve terrorist capabilities. Without completely dismantling the IS in Syria, they will pose security threats in Iraqi. In short term, future IS foreign franchises could lunch few revenge attacks to show its existence and their terror ability which IS senior leadership has already directed its global followers.


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