Iraq announced this morning that it is to begin the offensive to retake Mosul, the capital of the Islamic State group. By midday, flares and explosions could be heard on the city’s eastern front as attempts to take the outlying villages got underway. Columns of black smoke poured out from burning oil used to block and obstruct the view of fighter jets flying over.
The attack could displace up to 1.5 million Sunni Muslim civilians amid fears that there are insufficient escape corridor routes inside the city for the population to escape the fighting, according to the United Nations. Medicine in Mosul are in short supply, and food prices have risen while families are stockpiling food and water supplies. It is estimated that up to 10,000 fighters remain in Mosul.
The Iraqi Prime minister, Haider al-Abadi appeared on State television flagged by the armed forces top commanders and predicted a 'great victory'. But according to the U.S. commander of the coalition, the operation to take Iraq’s second largest city is predicted to continue for weeks but could take months or ‘possibly longer’.
Iraq with the help of Iranian-backed Shia militia, U.S. coalition airstrikes, 3,000 Turkish trained fighters and 4,000 Kurdish forces are hoping to retake the city seized in 2014. The correspondent for Al Jazeera says the co-operation between the sides some of whom are deeply divided politically puts together an ‘uneasy’ alliance.
Not only is the operation expected to be a ‘difficult’ one but commentators speaking to the "Muslim Eye" say the battle will depend on whether the Islamic State group intends to stand their ground or flee the city as they did in Ramadi and Falluja. Already reports on Arabic television channels suggest that I.S. fighters are beginning to leave the city. Experts are saying that they believe that the Islamic State group do not have the ability to hold on to the city particularly following the retake of Qayara, some 70 km south of Mosul, which is near a major airbase, an oilfield and an is important access route into the area. The group has lost much of its territory but still has access into Syria.
Observers point out that the animosity shown by Shia militia known as the "Hasd Asshabi" to the Sunni population resulted in claims of widespread looting of property and alleged persecution, torture and extra-judicial killing of civilians suspected of being members of the Islamic State group. Commentators have repeated the claim that citizens in the Islamic State group areas seem to prefer life under the group as opposed to living under the treatment meted out by the Shia militias or the Shia controlled government in Baghdad.
Ahead of the operation printed leaflets were dropped on residents promising not to ‘target civilians’ and ordering them to restrict movement away from areas frequented by Islamic State group fighters. Residents can now expect 25,000 troops to invade the city opening up battle fronts in five different directions.
"Muslim Eye" has been told that Iraq can expect to see an increase in attacks on Baghdad as a counter strategy against the Mosul invasion. News agency Reuters claimed that residents hearing explosions at a distance expressed happiness that the operation to ‘liberate’ Mosul had started. Others report that ‘blast wall’ have been erected to obstruct the advance and the Islamic State group is standing its ground.