Mumbai: After three years of siege by ISIL, on July 10th 2017 the Iraqi Prime Minister announced that Mosul was free! The attempt to reclaim Mosul, Iraq’s second most important city was projected as the ‘mother of all battles’.
Mosul had fallen to ISIL militants on 29th June 2014 and on the same day ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the beginning of ISIL’s self-proclaimed “Caliphate” which spans Iraq and Syria. We give you a lowdown on the events that transpired:
After declaration of the ‘caliphate’, further offensives in Mosul were planned in June surrounding Nineveh province as ISIL wanted to push most of the Yazidis (Kurdish speaking minority following a confluence of religions namely Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam) and bring in Arabs, obedient to ISIL. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered in the fighting were executed and images of their executions released via its Twitter feed and various websites.
At this juncture, the Obama administration then requested US$ 500 million from the US Congress for armed training of Iraqi and Syrian forces.
In an August offensive, ISIL captured Sinjar. Almost 50,000 civilians, mostly Yazidis, fled into the Sinjar mountains, where they were trapped facing starvation and dehydration and threatened with death if they refused conversion to Islam. By the end of the month, ISIL massacred 5,000 Yazidi men.
On hearing of the genocide of the Yazidis, President Obama authorized targeted airstrikes in Iraq against ISIL. The genocide saw even the Arab League condemning the Islamic State of committing crimes against humanity
Ever since the city of Mosul fell to ISIL forces in 2014, the United States and the Iraqi Government were planning to retake the city. The Mosul offensive was first launched by Kurdish Peshmerga (military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.) with the objective of severing key ISIL supply routes to Mosul. The effort was supported by US-led coalition airstrikes which killed many ISIL militants including a senior ISIL commander known as the “Prince of Nineveh. Between February and June, at least 91 coalition airstrikes took place near Mosul which devastated the city.
Iraqi General Najim al-Jubouri then announced that the planned operation to retake Mosul would be early that year itself and that the Iraqi special forces would move towards Baghdad and Baiji, in preparation for the coming battle. However this was wishful thinking. The ISIL capture of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, in May 2015 delayed the offensive to retake Mosul.
Ramadi was recaptured by the Iraqi army only later in Feb 2016. With this victory 4000 Iraqi soldiers were deployed in the Makhmour area to prepare for the Mosul offensive with renewed vigour.
In March however the Iraqi army and the coalition forces faced stiff resistance from ISIL, including snipers, suicide bombers, mortars and shellfire. Between June and September 2016 the Iraqi army’s offensives saw the capture of important areas—Haji Ali, Qayyarah Airfield, Badanah, Al-Shirqat and also small villages near Mosul.
The actual battle for Mosul finally began on 16 October 2016. The offensive was dubbed as Operation ‘We Are Coming, Nineveh’ with forces besieging ISIL-controlled areas in Nineveh surrounding Mosul. At that time there were about 1.5 million people living in the city making its capture an uphill task.
To prepare defenses against the assault, ISIL built hundreds of tunnels in the villages surrounding Mosul and rigged them with explosives and booby-traps and also laid mines along the roads. There were rumors on the possible use of chemical weapons against soldiers and civilians.
But the Iraqi-led coalition army outnumbered ISIL fighters by 10: 1. The coalition army was estimated to have 54,000 to 60,000 Iraqi forces, 16,000 Popular Mobilization Forces fighters (Shia militia) and 40,000 Kurdish Peshmerga deployed in the battle. An international contingent of 60 nations, led by the United States, was supporting Iraq’s war against ISIL, providing state of the art military equipment, logistics, air support and intelligence.
The second phase of the battle for Mosul started in January 2017 to capture the Eastern side. The third phase happened in Feb 2017 which was to advance into Western Mosul. But the west of the city presented a more difficult challenge. The densely-packed housing and narrow alleyways enabled a relatively small number of militants to target advancing troops with snipers and suicide bombs. Extensive damage was done to the airport, bridges, roads due to shelling and air strikes. The ancient Great Mosque of Al Nuri was destroyed.
The battle for southwestern Mosul began in March. The coalition strategy was to encircle Mosul completely, after which Iraqi troops would advance into the city-center. Major towns captured were Qayyarah, Qaraqosh, Kani Harami, Bashiqa, Bartella, Kirkuk, Fadiliya etc.
In May, progress was made to enter the Old City and to evacuate civilians from the area. Many civilians were abducted and used as human shields. The month of June saw the battle for Central Mosul . Finally on 10th July 2017, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally declared victory over ISIL in Mosul.
Is it really the end for ISIL ? Iraq’s victory over ISIS in Mosul is a big deal, but it does not mean the end of the road for ISIL. The group still holds territory at Tal Afar in Iraq. It also has a robust presence online. It has developed a series of branches throughout North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia that it will rely upon to ensure the movement’s longevity.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, has called upon his followers not to come to Iraq to fight, but instead to migrate to its branches and strengthen them to continue the struggle for the caliphate. Thus ISIL still stays in the news.
What happens to Mosul ?: Recapturing Mosul goes beyond just driving the ISIL from the country. Officials estimate that rebuilding Mosul could take more than 5 years and require billions of dollars in aid.
A tense drama is expected to unfold sooner or later. The Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad will struggle to reassert control on the local Sunnis who remain to be distrustful of it and of its Iranian backed militia. The Iraqi Kurds who played an important role in the battle against the Islamic State, will push for independence in their autonomous region.
The country has suffered genocide. As per the Iraqi Body Count agency the number of civilian deaths in 2014 was 20218, in 2015- 17578 and in 2016 was 16393. Amongst these almost half of the civilian victims, 7,431 people, were killed in Ninevah province alone, where Mosul, is situated. Data also shows that a large number of deaths were not caused by attacks, but air strikes and executions. The future of Mosul looks bleak. Tensions will only escalate as the victors- armed forces and militia fortified by weapon supplies and military training provided by foreign governments, engage in a mad scramble for the spoils.
As the Spanish philosopher George Santayana puts it “Only the dead have seen the end of war”