The Iraqi government supported by Kurdish forces and Shia militias claim to have killed the Islamic State group’s commander, Abu Abdul Rahman al Ansary of Mosul's Old City and are planning to overtake the bridge crossing the Tigris river to defeat the group which is holding on to its last stronghold in Iraq.
Intense rains had impeded the military assault on the old city but failed to prevent thousands of civilians pouring out of western neighbourhoods under government control. Reports describe the civilian population, ‘as relieved to be free of militants,’ but Muslim Eye can reveal the mixed feeling of the population many who fled from the sectarian attacks by Shias on Sunni Muslim communities in the protection of the Islamic State group.
Steady streams of refugees trudged out of the western districts, carrying suitcases, bottles of water and other possessions. Pushing children and sick elderly relatives in handcarts and wheelbarrows. Most left in the dark early morning hours or after the Iraqi army had overran their neighbourhoods.
As many as 600,000 have been caught inside the city and 200,000 have been displaced since the start of the campaign. The Iraqi government say almost 13,000 people from western Mosul seek shelter to avoid the fighting every day.
Reports say that elite forces are being slowed by IS snipers on the Iron Bridge linking Western and Eastern Mosul. Capturing the Iron Bridge would mean Iraqi forces would control three of the five bridges that span the River Tigris. Close to the Mosul Museum, armoured vehicles and tanks struggle to prevent snipers firing on troops clearing the areas around the bridge.
Since the offensive began in October, US led coalition air strikes have weakened the Islamic State group and taken over Eastern Mosul and have now occupied around 30% of Western Mosul.
However, concern is mounting about what will happen when the fight for Mosul ends. There are fears that Iraq could erupt into a civil war. Shia flags with the face of Hussein Ali, the grandson of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and major Shia religious figures fly on the vehicles of Iraq special forces and soldiers plant them on the houses where Islamic State group fighters were based.
The risk, according to correspondents in Iraq, means that Kurdish forces, Shia paramilitaries and Sunni Tribal fighters could find themselves fighting each other for control of the city and its surrounding areas.
Although the Islamic State group have gone on to commit major atrocities its members were initially welcomed into Mosul and other predominantly Sunni areas of some residents after years of sectarian discriminations by the Shia-dominated Baghdad government. The Islamic State group was seen by many as a reaction to the systematic repression of Iraq’s Sunnis which included mass arrest, arbitrary detention and the killing of Sunni protesters.
After the Islamic State group swept across Iraq in 2014 and overran the Iraqi military, Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah, Ali Al Sistani issued a fatwa calling on young Shia men to join various fighting groups to stop the IS takeover offensive.
At the centre of the fight between the Islamic State and the Iraqi government are militia groups funded by Iran. The Popular Mobilisation Units or Hashia Shabia as they are called are accused of horrific human rights abuses. 600 Sunni men went missing in Fallujah, Human Right Watch’s senior Iraqi researcher commented, “What we have seen is mostly men being abducted. Sometimes detained, tortured but then released, but on many occasions these men have never been seen again.”
So far, the militias for political reasons, have not entered Mosul. However, observers say the Iraqi government exercises little or no control over the Shia Militia and its only a matter of time before they move in on the city. One commentator, who closely monitors the event in Mosul told Muslim Eye the influence of Iran threatens to plunge Iraq into a perpetual state of sectarian warfare.
Tehran hold sway in almost 50% of Iraqi provinces. Sunni areas traditionally want little to do with Iran and even refuse to stock Iranian products. The fear is that liberating Mosul will leave Iranian-backed Shia militia to return to continue the systematic repression of Sunni Iraqis.