Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Previously untouched 600BC palace discovered under shrine demolished by Isil in Mosul

Previously untouched 600BC palace discovered under shrine demolished by Isil in Mosul




Archaeologists documenting Isil’s destruction of the ruins of the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah say they have made an unexpected discovery which could help in our understanding of the world’s first empire.
The Nebi Yunus shrine - containing what Muslims and Christians believe to be the tomb of Jonah, as he was known in the Bible, or Yunus in the Koran - was blown up by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants soon after they seized huge swathes of northern Iraq in 2014.
The shrine is situated on top of a hill in eastern Mosul called Nebi Yunus - one of two mounds that form part of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.
The Iraqi army retook the area from Isil last month, revealing the extensive damage wrought by the jihadists.

But local archaeologists have told the Telegraph that Isil also dug tunnels deep under the demolished shrine and into a previously undiscovered and untouched 600BC palace.
Limited excavation was carried out by the Ottoman governor of Mosul in 1852, which was revisited by the Iraqi department of antiquities in the 1950s. But neither team reached as far as the palace.


It is the first evidence of Isil’s use of tunneling in ancient grounds in their hunt for artefacts to plunder.
Inside one of the tunnels, Iraqi archaeologist Layla Salih discovered a marble cuneiform inscription of King Esarhaddon thought to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672BC.

While the king’s name is not visible on the cuneiform slab, a historian who has seen photographs of it says phrases are legible which were used only to describe him, in particular his rebuilding of Babylon after his father Sennacherib had it destroyed.
The palace was built for Sennacherib, renovated and expanded by Esarhaddon (681-669 BC), and renovated again by Ashurbanipal (669-627). It was partly destroyed during the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC.



There are only a handful of such cuneiforms recovered from the period, most of which from the second mound just north of Nebi Yunus in Kouyunjik.
In another part of the tunnel they discovered Assyrian stone sculptures of a demi-goddess, depicted sprinkling the “water of life” to protect humans in her care.
“I’ve never seen something like this in stone at this large size,” said Prof Eleanor Robson, chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, suggesting they may have been used to decorate the women's quarter of the palace. “The objects don’t match descriptions of what we thought was down there, so Isil’s destruction has actually led us to a fantastic find.

“There’s a huge amount of history down there, not just ornamental stones. It is an opportunity to finally map the treasure-house of the world’s first great empire, from the period of its greatest success.”
Ms Salih, a former curator of the Mosul museum who is supervising a five-man team carrying out the emergency documentation, said she believes Isil looted hundreds of objects before Iraqi forces recaptured the eastern side of the city.
“I can only imagine how much Daesh discovered down there before we got here,” she told the Telegraph by phone from Mosul. “We believe they took many of the artefacts, such as pottery and smaller pieces, away to sell. But what they left will be studied and will add a lot to our knowledge of the period."

She warned that the tunnels were not professionally built, however, and are at risk of collapsing “within weeks” - burying and potentially destroying the new finds.
Experts from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq - alongside other international teams - are bidding to help local archaeologists secure and document the site. Unesco is due to hold a meeting in Paris later this month to decide who will be sent.
The terror group destroyed several other key landmarks in Mosul and elsewhere because they considered the worshipping of shrines not to be in keeping with their Islamic traditions.  Isil militants believe giving special veneration to tombs and relics is against the teachings of Islam.

A report just released by the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government lists some 100 sacred buildings damaged or wiped off the map during Isil’s two-year reign.
They closed all of Mosul’s museums and cultural centres during their more than two-year reign over the city. Many of the city’s archaeologists and historians went into hiding.
“Many decided to stay in the city when Isil came, fearing what they might do to their families if they fled,” said Prof Robson. “They hid their books and lied about their expertise. Thankfully, most of them survived.”

Iraq forces seize Mosul bridge as thousands of civilians flee

Iraq forces seize Mosul bridge as thousands of civilians flee

27 February 2017 

Iraqi forces seized a damaged Mosul bridge on Monday which could link up their units on either side of the Tigris river, as thousands of civilians fled the fighting for Islamic State's remaining stronghold in the west of the city.
US-backed army and police units advanced through populated western districts, fighting tough street battles, and announced they had captured Mosul's southernmost bridge.
Once repaired, the bridge could help bring reinforcements and supplies from the eastern side, piling pressure on the militants dug in the western side among 750,000 civilians.
Iraqi forces captured eastern Mosul in January, after 100 days of fighting. They launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris a week ago.
If they defeat Islamic State in Mosul, that would crush the Iraq wing of the caliphate that the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared in 2014 over parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria. The US commander in Iraq has said he believes US-backed forces will recapture both Mosul and Raqqa - Islamic State's Syria stronghold - within six months.
Since government forces broke through the city's southern limits on Thursday, more than 10,000 civilians have fled IS-held areas, seeking medical assistance, food and water, Iraqi commanders said.
About 1,000 civilians arrived in the early hours of Monday at the sector held by the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), the wounded taken to the clinic of this elite unit, while men were screened to make sure they are not IS members.
Among the people treated at the CTS clinic was a little girl with a blood on her face and a woman with shrapnel in her hand, lying immobile, apparently unconscious.
An old man who came with them said about 20 people were sheltering in their house when it was hit by an air strike two days ago in the southwestern Maamoun district.
Those who managed to escape have had to walk through the desert for at least an hour to reach government lines.

Running for cover

Several thousand militants, including many who traveled from Western countries to join up, are believed to be still in Mosul, prepared for a fierce standoff amid a remaining civilian population of 750,000.
The United Nations World Food Programme said on Monday it was extremely concerned about dire humanitarian situation facing families in western Mosul.
A Reuters reporter saw several trucks teeming with people, lifting columns of sand and dust as they drove away from the city.
One had two women and infants riding in the cabin. The rest stood on the open bed, held on to the truck from outside, or sat on top of the cabin. "They booby trapped our homes and our cars," said an old woman.
A Western volunteer medic at the CTS clinic said a boy with a gunshot wound that shattered his knee was among those treated on Monday, and a pregnant woman who had both legs amputated.
"Most of those who arrive to this point are hungry and thirsty and suffering neglect, and need medical care," CTS Brigadier General Salman Hashim told Reuters.Army, police, CTS and Rapid Response units forces attacking Islamic State in west Mosul are backed by air and ground support from U.S.-led coalition, including artillery fire. U.S. personnel are operating close to the frontlines to direct air strikes.
Iraqi troops have already captured the southern and western accesses to western Mosul, dislodging the militants from the airport, a military base, a power station and three residential district, al-Maamoun, al-Tayyaran and al-Josaq, according to military statements.
"The more we advance, the fiercer the resistance," said Lt. Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammadawi, from the Rapid Response units that are fighting near the southernmost bridge, one of five spanning the Tigris.
All of them were damaged in strikes by the US-led air coalition, and later by Islamic State fighters trying to seal off the western bank still under their control.
Iraqi forces have reached 1 kilometer (less than 1 mile) from the old city center and the main government buildings, the capture of which would effectively mean the fall of Mosul.
The militants are using mortar, sniper fire, booby traps and suicide car bombs to fight off the offensive.
They are facing a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, regional Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups.

Iraqi forces reach key bridge in western Mosul

February 27, 2017 

MOSUL // Iraqi forces reached the western Mosul’s southernmost bridge Monday, a key step in the offensive to drive ISIL from the city.
The advance, a little more than a week into a major push to retake Mosul’s west bank, could allow the army to extend a floating bridge between the city’s two halves and pile pressure on the extremists.
"The Rapid Response force and the federal police have liberated Jawsaq neighbourhood and now control the western end of the Fourth Bridge," said Brig Gen Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command overseeing the fight against ISIL.
"That means the bridge is under control on both sides," Brig Gen Rasool said.
The Fourth Bridge is the southernmost of five bridges linking western Mosul to the eastern half of the city across the Tigris river. All of the bridges were rendered unusable by US-led air strikes last year as part of a strategy to isolate the militants in the two halves of the city.
Government forces retook eastern Mosul from ISIL last month, completing a key phase in an offensive on the city that began on October 17 and has involved tens of thousands of fighters.
Engineering units are now expected to deploy a so-called "ribbon bridge" across the Tigris that will allow the connection of the western side’s active front lines to the east bank.
Brig Gen Rasool said the interior ministry’s Rapid Response force had retaken two neighbourhoods on the west bank, while forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service have retaken another further west.
"The street fighting is intense, these are populated neighbourhoods," he said. "But our forces are fighting deep in the west, the enemy is broken."
Iraq forces were also retaking desert territory south-west of the city to further cut off Mosul from ISIL-held territory in Syria.
"In general, all the troops are moving forward as planned and doing so rapidly," said Staff Lt Gen Abdelamir Yarallah. He was speaking from Talul Al Atshana, the highest point in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.
Mosul was ISIL’s last urban bastion in Iraq, and its recapture would crown more than two years of a bloody counter-offensive to retake the third of the country lost to ISIL in 2014.
ISIL fighters have taken up positions deep inside the western half of the city, and while Iraqi forces are still advancing steadily, the battle is expected to get tougher the closer they get to the centre. Some streets are too narrow for military vehicles and will oblige troops to advance on foot.
Iraqi helicopters and warplanes from the US-led coalition against ISIL have played a key role in recent gains, but the density of the civilian population in west Mosul limits air support. There were an estimated 750,000 civilians and about 2,000 militants in the area before the offensive on west Mosul began.
The United Nations food agency said accounts from people who had managed to flee were very alarming.
"We are hearing from some families that food has drastically risen in price and is unaffordable. In extreme cases, people cannot access food at all," said Sally Haydock, chief of the World Food Programme in Iraq.
The UN has said it was planning for a possible exodus of 250,000 people or more from west Mosul, yet only a few hundred families have fled their homes as Iraqi forces retook their neighbourhoods over the past week.
Some are unable to leave because ISIL uses them as human shields, while others decide against exposing themselves to crossfire or leaving their property unprotected.
Some residents may also be ISIL supporters willing to help the extremists in their last stand, or afraid to face arrest if they leave.

Sons of Iraq: Mosul will only recover if we heed the lessons of the US invasion

Sons of Iraq: Mosul will only recover if we heed the lessons of the US invasion

February 27, 2017 

After months of fighting, Iraqi Security Forces have finally regained control of the eastern half of Mosul, the last urban stronghold of Islamic State in Iraq. They are now advancing on the city’s west.
The recapture of the northern Iraqi city will be a strategic victory for Iraq and its international partners. But did it ever have to come to this?
Violent opposition has gone up like a mushroom cloud in Iraq since the early years of US occupation. The US military believed that buying people’s hearts and minds with cash was an effective tool to counter against the opposition. Things did not always work out that way.

Bad money after good

Back in 2003, shortly after taking control of Baghdad, US forces discovered millions of dollars of loot taken by the Ba’athist Party during its rule. The US government decided to use it as the seed funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Programme (CERP).
The CERP aims to rebuild the country by funding hundreds of small-scale projects on water and sanitation infrastructure, food production, health care, education, and transport. And research shows that these small projects have improved the security situation in Iraq in the short term.
But the hearts and minds strategy may not be as effective as it appears in the case of Iraq. Aid can fuel conflict by creating incentives for looting, and providing a fertile ground for criminal activities. It is frequently stolen en route and induces fraud and corruption.
This new resource base can strengthen rebels’ capacity in an armed struggle. And many Iraqis see this foreign assistance as occupation forces simply giving them a tent after burning down their home.

A missed opportunity

The relationship between different religious groups is a decisive determinant of aid effectiveness in Iraq, and it was crucial in this case.
After the US invasion, the Shia-led government had the chance to reduce the enmity of the Sunni population towards them. To this end, part of the emergency response funds were used to sponsor the Sons of Iraq programme, which paid Sunnis to become security providers.
Sons of Iraq had two effects in the short term: it rewarded people who chose to stop fighting and, it gave incentives to local people to cooperate with security forces by providing them with local intelligence. After the introduction of the programme, the number of attacks in Iraq between 2007 and 2012 decreased.
According to the plan, the Government of Iraq would offer participants, most of them Sunni, a job in the security sector or civilian ministry. But in the end, only a small number of Sunnis were lucky enough to get a government job. Worse still, there were reports that the Shia-led government arrested, tortured, and murdered Sunni members of the programme.
Between 2009 and 2013, former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki gradually dismantled the programme, and filled Iraqi security forces with Shias; Sunnis began to be excluded in Iraqi society once more. This stirred up religious tensions between the two groups. The conflict escalated, leading to a massacre in Hawija in 2013, where hundreds of Sunnis were killed in clashes with security forces.


The case of Mosul

Mosul has long been a site much-contested between different religious groups. These include Sunni and Shia Arabs, Kurds and Assyrian Christians. The complex tribal structure of the region and its proximity to the Syrian border make governing the area almost impossible.
Fearing a perception of favoritism towards Sunnis, the US tamed the Sons of Iraq programme in Mosul. But doing so contributed to the rise of insurgency in the region. It has had the unintended consequence of making Mosul a safe haven for members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who were repelled from Baghdad, Anbar, and Diyala.
By now, all the conditions were set for a firestorm. Angry people were gathered in Mosul, willing to fight for whichever group was ready to overthrow the government.
Arguably, if the Shia government took the chance to absorb more Sunnis into the regime according to the original plan, ISIS, which stormed onto world stage in June 2014, taking both Fallujah and Mosul in the space of a few months, would have found it more difficult to initiate a war that has since become a political crisis at the global level.


Learning from history

While there is still a long way to go before a decisive victory in Iraq, it is time to plan ahead.
What can the international society do to prevent ISIS from re-emerging?
Humanitarian assistance is necessary for rebuilding houses and infrastructure destroyed by rockets and car bombs. But as the military advancement of the past few months shows, the key to success is cooperation that transcends religious and ethnic identities.
On one hand, the Shia-dominated security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga need intelligence from local citizens, mainly Sunni Arabs. On the other hand, local people require the help of the security forces to free them from ISIS’s harsh rule.
Behind the major identity fault lines between Sunni and Shia lie numerous grassroots-level rivalries over land and resources that have led to decades-long enmity. To achieve sustainable peace, different community members have to reach reconciliation. At the minimum, all groups should realise that no one is more righteous than the other.
Studies have found that cross-ethnic interactions in unions, theatres or even playgrounds can explain why Hindu-Muslim riots are less common in some places than others.
In this light, donors should fund social and urban design projects that help to build more inclusive, safe and resilient cities for all Iraqis. Hopefully, through these small steps, disparate groups can begin to reach a national-level reconciliation.
Even when ISIS is defeated, unless different groups can repair their relationship, violent extremism will remain, and peace in Iraq will stay elusive. Donor funding must be directed to programmes that help bridge divides.

Last letters : From Mosul schoolboys to Islamic State 'martyrs'

Last letters : From Mosul schoolboys to Islamic State 'martyrs'

February 27, 2017 

Teenage militant Alaa abd al-Akeedi's final letter to his family appears on official Islamic State stationery in Erbil, Iraq,   

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - "My dear family, please forgive me," reads the handwritten letter discarded in the dusty halls of an Islamic State training compound in eastern Mosul.
"Don't be sad and don't wear the black clothes (of mourning). I asked to get married and you did not marry me off. So, by God, I will marry the 72 virgins in paradise."
They were schoolboy Alaa Abd al-Akeedi's parting words before he set off from the compound to end his life in a suicide bomb attack against Iraqi security forces last year.
The letter was written on an Islamic State form marked "Soldiers' Department, Martyrs' Brigade" and in an envelope addressed to his parents' home in western Mosul.
Akeedi, aged 15 or 16 when he signed up, was one of dozens of young recruits who passed through the training facility in the past 2-1/2 years as they prepared to wage jihad. In several cases this involved carrying out suicide attacks - Islamic State's most effective weapon against a U.S.-backed military campaign to retake the group's last major urban bastion in Iraq.
His letter never reached his family. It was left behind with a handful of other bombers' notes to relatives when Islamic State abandoned the facility in the face of an army offensive that has reclaimed more than half of the city since October.

The militants also left a handwritten registry containing the personal details of about 50 recruits. Not all entries had years of birth, and only about a dozen had photographs attached, but many recruits were in their teens or early 20s.
These documents, found by Reuters on a trip into eastern Mosul after the army recaptured that area, include some of the first first-hand accounts from Islamic State's suicide bombers to be made public and offer an insight into the mindset of young recruits prepared to die for Islamic State's ultra-hardline ideology.
Reuters interviewed relatives of three of the fighters including Akeedi to help determine where they came from and why they chose jihad. In rare testimonies by families of Islamic State suicide bombers, they told of teenagers who joined the jihadists to their dismay and bewilderment, and died within months.
Reuters could not independently verify the information about other recruits in the registry. Islamic State does not make itself available to independent media outlets so could not be contacted for comment on the letters, the registry or the phenomenon of teenage suicide bombers.

'BROTHER JIHADI, RESPECT QUIET'

Islamic State has attracted thousands of young recruits in Mosul - by far the biggest city in the caliphate it declared in 2014 over territory it seized in Iraq and Syria. The group has carried out hundreds of suicide attacks in the Middle East and plotted or inspired dozens of attacks in the West.
The training compound visited by Reuters consisted of three villas confiscated from Mosul residents. Man-sized holes knocked through exterior walls allowed easy access between the villas.

Lower floors were littered with IS posters and pamphlets on topics ranging from religion to weaponry, as well as tests on warfare and the Koran. Green paint and bed sheets on the windows obscured the view from outside and gave the rooms an eerie glow.
Flak jackets and body-shaped shooting targets filled one room, while medicines and syringes were scattered around another that appeared to have served as a clinic.
The rooms upstairs were packed full of bunk beds with space for almost 100 people. Printed signs outlined strict house rules. One ordered: "Brother jihadi, respect quiet and cleanliness".

PLEDGING ALLEGIANCE

Most of the recruits listed in the registry were Iraqi but there were a few from the United States, Iran, Morocco and India. Akeedi's entry says he pledged allegiance on Dec. 1, 2014, a few months after the jihadists seized Mosul.
A relative told Reuters by phone that Akeedi's father was deeply distressed by his son's decision but feared punishment if he tried to remove him from Islamic State's ranks. Reuters was unable to contact his father.
Akeedi rarely visited his family after joining the jihadists. On his last trip home he told his father he was going to carry out a suicide attack in Baiji, an oil refinery town south of Mosul where the militants had been fighting off repeated offensives by the Iraqi military.
"He told his father, 'I am going to seek martyrdom,'" said the relative, who declined to be named because he feared reprisals from Islamic State or from Iraqi forces preparing to storm the area.
A few months later, Akeedi's family was told by the militants that he had succeeded.
Another recruit of the same age, Atheer Ali, is listed in the registry beside a passport-sized photo showing a boy with bushy eyebrows and large brown eyes. He wears a dark collar-less tunic, a brown head covering and a cautious smile.
His father, Abu Amir, told Reuters his son had been an outstanding student who excelled in science and was always watching the National Geographic TV channel. He loved to swim and fish in a nearby river and would help out on his uncle's vegetable farm after school.

TOO YOUNG FOR FACIAL HAIR

Ali was shy and slim, lacking a fighter's mentality or build, Abu Amir said in an interview at his eastern Mosul home, sifting through family photos.
So the father was horrified when one day in early 2015 Ali didn't come home from school but ran off with seven classmates to join Islamic State.
When Abu Amir went to the militants' offices across the city to track down his son, they threatened to jail him.
He never saw his son alive again.
A few months later, three Islamic State fighters pulled up at Abu Amir's house in a pickup truck and handed him a scrap of paper with his son's name on it. He was dead.
Abu Amir retrieved Ali's body from the morgue. His hair had grown long but he was still too young for facial hair. Shrapnel was lodged in his arms and chest.
He said the fighters told him he had been hit by an air strike on a mortar position in Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. They described him as a "hero".
Gathered in the family sitting room, Ali's relatives said he was brainwashed. Many of his school friends fled Mosul after the militants took control and Ali fell in with a new crowd, but his family never noticed a change in his behavior.
"Even now I'm still astounded. I don't know how they convinced him to join," said Abu Amir. "I'm just glad we could bury him and put this whole thing to rest."

'HIS MIND WAS FRAGILE'

Sheet Omar was also 15 or 16 years old when he joined Islamic State in August 2014, weeks after the group captured Mosul. Next to his registry entry is the fatal addendum: "Conducted martyrdom operation".
Shalal Younis, Omar's sister's father-in-law, confirmed he had died carrying out a suicide attack, though he was uncertain about the details.
He said the teenager, from the Intisar district of eastern Mosul, had been overweight and insecure and joined the jihadists after his father's death.
"His mind was fragile and they took advantage of that, promising him virgins and lecturing him about being a good Muslim," said Younis. "If someone had tempted him with drugs and alcohol, he probably would have done that instead."


Friday, 24 February 2017

Battle for Mosul Airport: Day One

Iraqi forces storm Mosul airport, military base

February 23, 2017 

SOUTH OF MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces captured Mosul airport from Islamic State on Thursday, advancing on multiple fronts towards the jihadists' last major stronghold in the western half of the city.
The troops have gained ground rapidly in outlying areas south of the city, Iraq's second largest, since launching a new phase of a four-month offensive to terminate Islamic State's territorial holdings in the country.
Elite counter terrorism forces joined the battle on Thursday in the southwest, entering the Ghozlani army base and pushing towards the districts of Tal al-Rayyan and al-Mamoun.
Federal police and an elite interior ministry unit known as Rapid Response drove Humvees flying Iraqi flags into the perimeter of the airport, and state television later said they had taken full control of the heavily damaged facility.
Islamic State fought back with suicide car bombs, drones carrying grenades and mortars, Reuters correspondents in the area said. The burnt corpses of two militants and the motorcycle from which they had fired at Iraqi forces were lying under a tree, apparently hit by an air strike.
"Daesh (Islamic State) resistance is not inconsiderable but they are trying to save their strength for inside the city," First Lieutenant Ahmed al-Ghalabi of the Rapid Response force said outside the airport's main entrance.
Iraqi forces hope to repair the airport and use it as a base from which to drive the militants from Mosul's western districts where around 750,000 people are believed to be trapped.
The United Nations has warned up to 400,000 civilians could be displaced by the offensive and that residents are already suffering from food and fuel shortages.
A Reuters correspondent saw more than 100 civilians, mostly women and children, fleeing towards Iraqi security forces from the district of al-Mamoun.
Several were wounded and at least one, wrapped in a blanket and carried on the back of a donkey, appeared to be dead, casualties of Islamic State mortars and roadside bombs.
"Daesh fled when counter terrorism Humvees reached al-Mamoun. We were afraid and we decided to escape towards the Humvees," Ahmed Atiya, one of the escaped civilians, said. "We were afraid of the shelling."
Troops directed the civilians to safety and medical care as mortars landed nearby. One soldier offered an elderly shepherd two cigarettes, which are banned by Islamic State.
NARROW ALLEYWAYS
Iraqi forces launched the new offensive on Sunday after they finished clearing militants from eastern Mosul in January and redeployed to the other side of the Tigris river that bisects the city.
On Thursday, counter-terrorism troops captured the Ghozlani base close to the Baghdad-Mosul highway, which includes barracks and training grounds, a CTS spokesman told Reuters.
The airport and the base, which Islamic State fighters seized when they overran Mosul in 2014, have been heavily damaged by air strikes intended to wear down the militants ahead of the offensive, a senior Iraqi official said.
The campaign involves a 100,000-strong force of Iraqi troops, Shi'ite militias and Sunni tribal fighters. It is backed by an international coalition that provides vital air support as well as on-the-ground guidance and training.
Western advisers were seen close to the clashes at the airport as well as some 2 km (1 mile) behind the frontline.
One Rapid Response officer asked them for advice about which route to take to the airport. Coalition troops fired intermittently at Islamic State targets from inside MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles).
The U.S. military commander in Iraq has said he believes U.S.-backed forces will retake both of Islamic State's urban bastions - the other is the Syrian city of Raqqa - within six months, which would end the jihadists' ambitions to rule and govern significant territory.
Losing Mosul could spell the end of the Iraqi side of militants' self-styled caliphate in those countries, which Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared from the city in 2014.
Iraqi commanders expect the battle in western Mosul to be more difficult than the east, however, in part because tanks and armored vehicles cannot pass through narrow alleyways that crisscross the city's ancient western districts.
Militants have developed a network of passageways and tunnels to enable them to hide and fight among civilians, melt away after hit-and-run operations and track government troop movements, according to inhabitants.
But Iraqi forces are hoping that residents will help them in pushing out the militants, who subjected people under their rule to extreme violence and deprivation.
A leaflet dropped by the Iraqi air force last week lay on a hillside near the airport on Thursday.
"Prepare to receive the sons of your armed forces and cooperate with them as your brothers on the east side did in order to reduce losses and make victory swift," it said.

Iraqi forces ‘take Mosul airport runway from Islamic State militants’

Iraqi forces have fought their way into a sprawling military base outside Mosul and onto the grounds of the city’s airport, taking control of the runway amid fierce exchanges with Islamic State militants.
The two-pronged advance, backed by the US-led international coalition, is part of a major assault that started earlier this week to drive the Islamic State group from the western half of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The Iraqi federal police units, backed by regular army forces, entered the airport on Thursday morning, according to two police officials who said heavy clashes were under way hours later with IS militants holed up inside several airport buildings.
The officials said troops from the US-led coalition were with the advancing forces, though they did not specify the nationalities of the foreign forces.


Lebanon-based private broadcaster Al-Mayadeen aired live footage from the Mosul airport perimeter, showing a military helicopter flying overheard and firing at IS positions as gunfire rattled.
By early afternoon, federal police commander Major General Raid Shakir Jawdat told the Iraqi state TV that his troops have control of “more than half” of the airport complex.
Separately, Iraqi special forces entered the Ghazlani military base next to the airport on the southern edge of the city, the spokesman for the Joint Military Operation Command said. Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said heavy clashes were taking place inside the base.

On Sunday, after weeks of preparations, Iraqi forces officially launched the operation to take Mosul’s western half, with the Iraqi regular army and federal police forces taking part in the initial push. Since then, the military says they have retaken nearly 50 square miles south of the city.
Thursday marked the first time the Iraqi special forces, which played a key role in securing the eastern half of the city, joined the fight for western Mosul.




“The counter-terrorism forces will be an additional force, which will expedite the liberation of Mosul’s western side,” Brig Gen Rasool said.
Also on Thursday, another counter-terrorism unit captured a key village south-west of Mosul from where Islamic State group’s snipers and shelling had been slowing the government offensive, he added.
In January, Iraqi authorities declared the eastern half of Mosul “fully liberated” from IS. The battle for western Mosul, the extremist group’s last major urban bastion in Iraq, is expected to be the most daunting yet.

The streets are older and narrower in the western section of the city, stretching west from the Tigris River that divides Mosul into the eastern and western half.
The dense urban environment will likely force Iraqi soldiers to leave the relative safety of their armoured vehicles. The presence of up to 750,000 civilians will also pose a challenge.
Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large areas of northern and western Iraq. But the Sunni militant group has since consistently lost territory as the US-led coalition proved to be critical for Iraqi government efforts to claw back territory lost to the extremists.


Fight For Mosul Moves Westward And Centers On City's Airport

Days after expanding the fight for of Mosul, Iraq's security forces are pushing further into the strategic city's western portion, focusing on its airport. Thousands of ISIS fighters are believed to be in Mosul, the extremist group's biggest stronghold in Iraq.
From Erbil, Iraq, NPR's Alice Fordham reports for our Newscast unit:
"The fight to take back Mosul has been going on since October, but the push for the western half of the city is just four days old. Federal police and the army have pushed through rural villages to the outskirts of the city, and the Iraqi special forces have now joined them as they face fierce ISIS resistance around the airport.
"Around 450 members of the U.S.-led coalition are advising the Iraqi troops. Inside western Mosul, a resident tells NPR that ISIS has forced residents to knock holes in their houses to create tunnels for the militants to use in the coming fight there."
According to Iraqi News, ISIS leaders have disseminated a list of nearly 150 members who are wanted for arrest, because they fled in the face of fighting in Mosul.
Government forces entered the airport on the southern edge of the city for the first time since the Islamic State group overran the region in 2014, Iraqi News reports, citing state TV.
So far, government forces have been able to recapture the eastern half of the city that's divided by the Tigris River. The recent progress comes two years after a senior U.S. military official said Iraq's military was preparing to launch an offensive to take the city back.
When it was overrun by ISIS fighters in the summer of 2014, Mosul's population was around 2 million.
Announcing the new offensive Sunday, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said, "Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh."

VIDEO: Mosul airport seen as foothold for Iraqi advance

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 01:24

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Iraqi forces face their toughest test in Mosul

Iraqi forces face their toughest test in Mosul

 

IRAQ’S prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, had vowed to recapture Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (IS) by the end of 2016. In the weeks leading up to the battle for Iraq’s second-largest city, American military commanders echoed him: victory would be swift, they pledged. But with the jihadists still in control of half the city and the hardest part of the battle yet to come, these predictions now look naive.
In the rush to dislodge IS from its largest urban stronghold, Iraq’s security forces appear to have underestimated the militants’ ability to cause carnage. Although vastly outnumbered, the jihadists have used snipers, booby traps, improvised landmines and hundreds of suicide-bombers to bog down Iraqi security forces. Elaborate tunnel networks have allowed IS to escape bombing runs from American warplanes and to ambush Iraqi forces in areas supposedly cleared.

The grinding urban combat has taken a heavy toll on Iraqi troops. Some units of the country’s Golden Division—American-trained special forces that have spearheaded the assault on the city—have seen more than half their men killed or wounded. The UN said that almost 2,000 Iraqi troops were killed across the country in November alone, triple the number in the previous month, when the battle for Mosul began. The government refuses to release casualty figures, but in December the offensive ground to a halt as commanders waited for reinforcements to arrive.
So far Iraqi security forces, backed by American-led coalition warplanes, have captured the eastern half of the city, which is split in half by the Tigris river. On February 19th, more than four months since the start of the battle, they launched the next phase of the operation: to retake the west. The fighting will be even tougher. The old city’s narrow alleyways will force Iraqi troops to dismount from their armoured Humvees, making them easier prey for IS suicide-bombers and snipers.
There is also a larger civilian population in the west, further complicating the operation. The Iraqi government has dropped leaflets urging the 750,000 or so residents to stay in their homes. But with heavy fighting and siege-like conditions taking an increasing toll on civilians, the UN believes that as many as half could flee, adding to the 160,000 who have already left the city’s east and its surrounding villages since the battle began.
Still, the jihadists are slowly losing control of their caliphate. The Pentagon believes many of the group’s senior bureaucrats are starting to leave Raqqa, IS’s capital across the border in Syria, as air strikes on that city intensify. With Kurdish-led ground forces slowly encircling Raqqa, smugglers are helping growing numbers of IS low-level fighters flee the battlefield or defect to rival jihadist groups in Syria. The group’s finances have also taken a hit, with revenue (largely from taxation, oil and ransoms) declining from up to $1.9bn in 2014 to, at most, $870m in 2016, according to a report from Kings College London.
The fall of both Mosul and Raqqa, which American commanders believe may happen within six months, will deal a huge blow to the jihadists. Even so, IS is likely to endure. It has already begun to switch to insurgent-style tactics, setting off car bombs in Baghdad and east Mosul with growing frequency. The jihadists may be down; they are far from out.

‘I WANTED TO SPIT IN THEIR FACES’ Brit ISIS fanatic Jamal Al-Harith who blew himself up in Mosul after ‘getting £1m from taxpayers’ gave ranting TV interview days after his release from Guantanamo

‘I WANTED TO SPIT IN THEIR FACES’

Brit ISIS fanatic Jamal Al-Harith who blew himself up in Mosul after ‘getting £1m from taxpayers’ gave ranting TV interview days after his release from Guantanamo

The Manchester-born terrorist, 50, who converted to Islam in 1992, also revealed his intention to sue for compensation after spending two years inside the jail.
He was locked up at the notorious camp in Cuba in March 2002 after being captured in Afghanistan by US troops who suspected him of being a Taliban sympathiser.
But he was freed two years later following intense lobbying by Tony Blair’s Labour government.

Elite militia leader killed in armed clashes with IS near Mosul

Elite militia leader killed in armed clashes with IS near Mosul

Feb 23, 2017, 4:25 pm

Nineveh (IraqiNews.com) Al-Hashd al-Shaabi Organization announced on Thursday, that Commander of al-Hashd al-Shaabi’s 10th brigade, Ali Abdel Kadim al-Saeedi, was killed during armed clashes with the Islamic State group in Tal Afar District, west of Mosul.
The militia said in a press statement, “Commander of al-Hashd al-Shaabi’s 10th brigade, Ali Abdel Kadim al-Saeedi, was killed during the liberation battles of the areas west of Tal Afar District from the Islamic State.”
Yesterday, Spokesman for al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Ahmed al-Asadi, announced launching the first offensive of the 6th phase to liberate the areas west of Tal Afar, while emphasized that al-Hashd al-Shaabi forces cut off the main road linking between Mosul and Tal Afar.

IS makes list of fugitive members in western Mosul, police arrest 18 in east

IS makes list of fugitive members in western Mosul, police arrest 18 in east



Nineveh (IraqiNews.com) The Islamic State has prepared a list of 143 members it accuses of escaping battles with security forces in western Mosul, while 18 members were arrested by police in the eastern side of the city.

“The group issued this morning the first list of 143 of its members whom it described as ‘delinquent’ for having escaped front defense lines in western Mosul,” a local source told Alsumaria News on Thursday.

 According to the source, the group distributed the list among members at its checkpoints and outposts in western Mosul in order to get fleeing fighter arrested.
Iraqi government forces, backed by paramilitary troops, launched Sunday a new phase of offensives against the Islamic State in Mosul, targeting the liberation of the western region after taking control over the east late January.

In eastern Mosul, Nineveh police chief, Brig. Gen. Wathiq al-Hamadani, said his forces arrested 18 members from the Islamic State at al-Qahera district.
Since recapturing the eastern section of Mosul, Islamic State militants have attacked liberated areas in that area with drones and sneaking militants, killing several civilians and security personnel. Iraqi officials have also voiced fears that dormant IS cells in those areas could pose a security threat.

UNHCR: As new Mosul offensive unfolds, sheltering the displaced comes back into focus

As new Mosul offensive unfolds, sheltering the displaced comes back into focus

With the new military operations under way in Mosul, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is focusing efforts on camp construction to shelter many of those who could be displaced by the renewed fighting.
It’s estimated that up to 250,000 people could be displaced. Almost 217,000 people have fled hostilities since 17 October, of whom around 160,000 are still displaced. Others have returned to their homes in newly-retaken areas. But the situation remains fluid and terrifying for those trapped or affected by the fighting.
UNHCR has eight camps open or completed at present, and one under construction. We are planning for the start of work at another site (Hamam Al Alil), south of Mosul. Currently there is spare capacity in three existing camps to the east of Mosul (Hasansham U3, Khazer M1 and M2), with space for 12,700 more people. An additional 1,000 plots are planned for Khazer M2. There are also spaces for 14,400 people in UNHCR’s newly-built Chamakor camp, where 500 tents have already been pitched.
The Government of Iraq has decided, initially, to transport people displaced from western Mosul to camps in the east while new capacity is being added in the south. UNHCR has been asked to support a new Government site at Hamam Al-Alil, 20 km south of Mosul. It is expected that many of those fleeing western Mosul will reach Hamam Al-Alil on foot. This site will shelter for up to 60,000 people. One camp at the site will be UNHCR built. Another, which has been built by the government, for 24,000 people, will be UNHCR-supported.
With the predicted exodus of up to a quarter of a million people, it will be impossible to accommodate such large numbers on existing land. We have identified other land that could be used as camps once frontlines shift.
Meantime, conditions in the densely-populated west of the city are worsening, according to reports and testimonies, and hence concerns are mounting for the well-being of civilians. There are shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine. Half of all food shops have closed and most people can only access untreated water. Food prices are rocketing and there are reports of families burning furniture, clothing and plastic to stay warm. Conditions will deteriorate if civilians are not able to flee the fighting.
During the battle for eastern Mosul, the protection of civilians was prioritized in military planning and activities, and UNHCR hopes this principle will continue to be upheld. However, the new battle will be different. The city’s west is densely populated, with many narrow streets, and fighting will be street by street. Armed groups have built a network of tunnels.
Insecurity and recent suicide attacks in eastern Mosul have resulted in some families – who had opted to return to their homes – coming back to the camps in search of safety.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
In Geneva, Matthew Saltmarsh, saltmars@unhcr.org, +41 79 217 31 40
In Iraq, Caroline Gluck, gluck@unhcr.org, +964 780 920 7286

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Opinion: Mosul: Winning the Battle and the War

Mosul: Winning the Battle and the War

February 22, 2017

The Trump Administration has inherited a complex set of problems in Iraq. Most pressing among them is the ongoing campaign to recapture Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from ISIS. The operation to liberate Mosul has met fierce resistance, but Iraqi forces – with coalition aid – control the eastern half of the city and have now begun their final assault on the last pocket of ISIS forces in the west. Helping those forces liberate the western half of Mosul is one of the first challenges that President Trump and his administration face in Iraq. However, perhaps more important will be the political race for influence in the city – and much of northern Iraq – by the region's power players. The Cipher Brief’s Fritz Lodge spoke with former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Jack Keane, to see where the battle for Mosul stands, and what the Trump Administration will need to do to secure the city afterward.
The Cipher Brief: Where does the battle for Mosul currently stand?
Retired General Jack Keane: The battle for Mosul is in two primary phases. Phase 1, retaking the eastern part of the city, has been completed, although it took considerably longer than the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) thought it would and was much more costly in casualties as well. Phase 2 is beginning as we speak, to reclaim the western part of the city. The west is considerably more densely populated than the east so the fight to reclaim this part of the city will certainly be every bit as demanding as Phase 1. There will likely be even more casualties, and the battle will take weeks or possibly months to complete.
TCB: Do you have a sense of why the ISF were so wrong in their original assumptions about how difficult the battle would be?
JK: Well it largely depended on ISIS. ISIS did not defend in place in Ramadi and Fallujah. They put up initial resistance, withdrew their command-and-control unit, and then eventually withdrew the main body of their forces. In Mosul, ISIS command and control is still in place, and the main body of ISIS fighters is defending in place. That, in of itself, has made the battle significantly harder. Specifically, ISIS has also used human shields to their advantage in order to disarm the American air power advantage, and they’ve done that very successfully.

CONTINUE READING

Iraqi police snipers take aim at Mosul ahead of key airport offensive

Iraqi police snipers take aim at Mosul ahead of key airport offensive



Akram Mahsen, a 25-year-old Iraqi federal police sniper, squinted through his scope at a black flag hanging limply a kilometre distant at the Mosul airport. Beyond that lay west Mosul, the last major urban stronghold in the country held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
“This coming battle for Mosul will be between the snipers,” Mr Mahsen predicted. “Snipers, plus car bombs,” a comrade lounging on the rooftop next to him interjected.
The final chapter of the battle for Mosul is expected to play out in the densely populated neighbourhoods west of the Tigris River which currently demarcates the line of liberation in the city. A trapped civilian population and tight warrens of narrow streets are expected to make progress painstaking for the Iraqi Security Forces. First though they'll need to retake the airport.



Iraq forces poised for Mosul airport assault



AL-BUSEIF: Iraqi forces readied on Wednesday for an assault on Mosul airport after blitzing militant positions in a renewed offensive to retake the Daesh’s emblematic stronghold.
Elite forces reinforced positions that were taken since a fresh push south of Mosul was launched on Sunday while hundreds of civilians fled newly recaptured villages.
“Around 480 people displaced from Al-Yarmuk area are being transferred to liberated areas further south,” the federal police said in a statement.
Iraqi forces have retaken a key checkpoint on the main Baghdad highway south of Mosul and the village of Al-Buseif, a natural citadel overlooking the airport and the south of the city.
There were no major operations near Mosul on Wednesday, with Iraq’s new interior and defense ministers expected to visit the front lines.
However Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) paramilitaries continued to battle militants further west, near the town of Tal Afar, which lies between Mosul and the Syrian border and is still held by Daesh.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi said in a statement they blew up at least four car bombs in fighting near Ain Al-Tallawi and killed several Daesh members.
The elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) that retook east Mosul and did most of the fighting since the offensive on the city was launched on Oct. 17 have not yet been brought into action in the latest push.
The Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response units could also move in on the airport in the coming days, a key target before troops breach the city limits to face the militants in the narrow streets of Mosul’s west bank.
Senior US officials this week estimated there were only 2,000 Daesh fighters defending west Mosul, suggesting Daesh had suffered heavy losses in the first four months of the operation.
The US-led coalition, which has provided intensive air support as well as advisers on the ground, said before the Mosul offensive began that 5,000 to 7,000 militants were in the city.
AFP reporters saw US forces moving into Al-Buseif on Wednesday in convoys of large military vehicles.
The fate of an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped in west Mosul was a major source of concern as Iraqi forces prepared for what many have predicted could be one of the bloodiest battles yet in the war on Daesh.
Almost half of the remaining population are children, according to aid groups, and supplies are fast dwindling.
“Daesh fighters have seized all the hospitals and only they can get treated now,” an employee at the Al-Jamhuri hospital in west Mosul told AFP by phone.
The health of many residents had been deteriorating for months.
“Even before the hospitals were closed, locals had to pay Daesh sums of money they couldn’t afford,” the hospital employee said.
Medical workers and residents speaking from west Mosul on condition of anonymity said the weakest were beginning to die of malnutrition and shortages of medicines.
Iraqi forces declared the full liberation of the city’s eastern side a month ago but the situation there has remained precarious, with the departure of CTS to the western front leaving a security vacuum.
Around half a million civilians stayed on in east Mosul, making the screening process that would have been necessary to prevent Daesh members blending in with the rest of the population almost impossible.
Several attacks have already been carried out in “liberated” neighborhoods and on Wednesday, some residents found threatening Daesh leaflets under their doors.
“Warning! To all residents and those present in the east side, you have to leave the city as fast as possible. Staying exposes you to death and you will be a legitimate target for the mujahideen,” the leaflet said.
While more than 50,000 of the 220,000 people displaced during the first months of the offensive have returned to their homes, some people continued to flee from retaken areas for fear of Daesh reprisals.

Saving Simba and Lula, last two survivors of Mosul zoo

Saving Simba and Lula, last two survivors of Mosul zoo

Published
Feb 22, 2017, 11:46 pm 

MOSUL, Iraq (AFP) - Simba the lion and Lula the bear are the Mosul zoo's only survivors - the other animals were killed by shelling, starved to death or ate each other during the fighting.
Covered in dirt and excrement, the pair paced up and down their cramped cages. The stench of putrefying animal carcasses filled the air in this eastern neighbourhood of the war-torn Iraqi city.
Federal forces retook that side of Mosul last month from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group after more than two years of tyrannical rule by the militant group and weeks of bitter combat.
Until Amir Khalil, a kind of "roving war zone veterinarian", and his team of volunteers from the Four Paws animal welfare charity visited on Tuesday, nobody had entered the cages in weeks.
"It's very dirty, there is rubble. It is, I believe, inhuman to leave the king of the jungle, or the king of the animals, to be in this place," Khalil told AFP.
A surgical mask covering his face and mouth, he loaded sedative darts into a long blowgun and aimed it at Simba's side.
The sting drew a huge roar from the lion that briefly covered the distant explosions of artillery and air strikes targeting ISIS on the other bank of the Tigris River.
"When the war started, during the fight, half of the animals were gone. They either got sick and died, or some of them ate the others because of starvation," said Abu Omar, the owner of the small zoo.
"We couldn't even come to feed them. There was shelling and guns firing, and a curfew," he said. "And also, shelling have damaged some of the cages and some animals were killed because of that."
Only Lula, a female bear, and Simba, a male lion, survived. Some pets that used to live at the zoo had found a home with neighbourhood residents, but all the birds of prey have vanished.
The doctor and his aides lifted the sedated lion out of its cage and laid it on a plastic sheet for an examination.
"During the war there was no food, nobody could reach them. So I feel very emotional to see them. It's heartbreaking," said Hakam Anas al-Zara, a 27-year-old Mosul resident volunteering with Four Paws.
Khalil inspected Simba as a group of giggling children and three intrigued soldiers looked on. Nobody flinched when a large explosion sent blast waves across the neighbourhood and silenced the birds.
It takes more to unsettle this 52-year-old Egyptian-Austrian who has been plying his trade in conflict zones for years to rescue neglected animals in abandoned zoos and elsewhere.
He was already in Iraq in 2003 after the US invasion to rescue nine lions at one of former president Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad.
Khalil also travelled to Egypt and Libya during the upheaval there a few years ago and treated animals during a 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip at a zoo he described as "the worst in the world."
In Mosul, hundreds of thousands of people face the risk of starvation and being used as human shields by the world's most violent militant group, but the vet was adamant animals should also receive attention.
"These animals were kept in captivity because of us. And they don't have the luxury to escape. And they deserve that somebody cares for them," he said.
After Simba, it was Lula's turn and the diagnosis was bad: "We see that the bear has diarrhoea due to nutrition problems, teeth problems, nose excretions."
Four Paws plans to provide food and medication to the animals for a month to give the zoo owner some time to find funds.
Paying to visit a zoo is hardly going to be a priority for residents rebuilding their homes and picking up their lives after militant rule. And on the west side of Mosul, the battle to drive out ISIS has not even started yet.
Abu Omar's male bear is still there, on the other side of the river, and Lula has not seen her partner since the militants took over the city in June 2014. "God willing, they will soon be reunited," he said.

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi cut off main road between Mosul and Tal Afar

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi cut off main road between Mosul and Tal Afar



Nineveh (IraqiNews.com) Al-Hashd al-Shaabi announced on Wednesday cutting off the main road linking between the city of Mosul and Tal Afar District, west of the city, while pointed out that its forces are participating in the battles to liberate western Mosul.
Spokesman for al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Ahmed al-Asadi, said in a speech during a press conference in Baghdad, “We don’t expect the battle to be neither easy nor short, and the blessings of our martyrs and casualties allow us to achieve victories.”
“Security forces cut off the main road linking between Tal Afar and the city of Mosul, while the 26th brigade arrived in the village of al-Sahaji to secure this road,” Asadi explained.
“The 26th brigade of al-Hashd al-Shaabi is participating in the battle to liberate western Mosul,” Asadi further added.
In 19 February 2016, Prime Minister and General Commander of Armed Forces Haider al-Abadi announced launching an offensive to liberate the western side of the city of Mosul.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

ISIL sleeper cells threaten havoc in liberated eastern Mosul

ISIL sleeper cells threaten havoc in liberated eastern Mosul


February 20, 2017 

Mosul // A convoy of black National Security Service pickup trucks race through liberated eastern Mosul, sirens blaring to cut through the busy traffic.
The black vehicles pull up at the edge of an industrial zone and officers jump out, some scattering into defensive positions as others approach a row of abandoned mechanics’ garages.
Behind the corrugated tin of a sliding gate, they find what they are looking for. On a dusty concrete floor lie the tools of ISIL’s insurgency: landmines, C4 explosive and metal ball bearings wrapped tightly in duct tape, oil canisters filled with home-made explosives. Pressure plates used to ignite these improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been stacked on wooden planks to prevent water damage.

As the campaign to dislodge ISIL from west Mosul gets under way, it is becoming clear that the extremist group’s terror threat has not been banished from the liberated half of the city. Sleeper cells that security officials say proliferated during ISIL’s rule are becoming increasingly active, seeking to disrupt the return to normal life and divert government forces from their battle on the opposite bank of the Tigris river. On February 10, just two weeks after the government declared eastern Mosul liberated, a suicide bomber attacked the popular My Fair Lady restaurant in the central Zuhour neighbourhood, killing 11 people. On Sunday, hours after the military launched its offensive on west Mosul, two militants blew themselves up in eastern Mosul, killing three soldiers and two civilians.

With Mosul’s security forces severely depleted after more than two years under ISIL rule, the NSS and what remains of the police force are struggling to contain the terror as they rebuild their presence.
The NSS, akin to western intelligence agencies such as the FBI in the US or Britain’s MI5, received a tip-off about the cache in the industrial zone from one of its informants in the city.
As the unit probed deeper into the industrial estate, they found more evidence of ISIL’s threat: piles of mortar rounds in workshop; sacks of phosphate, a component of the explosives used for IEDs, stacked high in a warehouse. Next door was a car bomb factory with a military vehicle left behind by the retreating militants before it could be transformed into a bomb on wheels.
Major Muntathar, who led the raid, said he could not say whether the IEDs were made while ISIL still controlled the area or in secret after Iraqi forces drove the militants out.
Extremist terror has long plagued Mosul, and the number of ISIL supporters there grew after the group took over the city in June 2014.
"There are a lot more cells in Mosul now than before the occupation," said Col Isham Mahmoud of the NSS.
The security agency has deployed about 200 men in Mosul. The police force for Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, has only 6,000 police officers in the city compared with 28,000 before the ISIL takeover, according to the force’s Col Uday Saber.
Security forces fled after ISIL stormed the city. The policemen that did not make it out were captured and brutally murdered, their bodies dumped in mass graves outside the city. One site alone, a sinkhole to the south of the city, is thought to contain the bodies of at least 2,100 policemen, Col Saber said.
A batch of 1,700 newly trained policemen is expected in east Mosul any day now, but rooting out ISIL remains a tough task.
After more than two years of tyrannical rule, the extremist group is deeply unpopular with the majority of Mosul’s residents. The NSS claims that up to 200 calls are made each day to a hotline set up to pass on information on ISIL members or sympathisers remaining in east Mosul. But with resources limited, it will take time to follow up on this flood of information and make arrests.
"It might take six months or more before the east side of Mosul is cleared of sleeper cells," Col Saber said.
A survivor of the My Fair Lady bombing believes the fear of being caught by security forces will only drive the extremists to step up suicide attacks.
"Daesh members hiding in east Mosul know that they will be killed sooner or later. That’s why they do something like this, because they think they will go to heaven if they do," said Mohammed, a son of the restaurant owners, who lost his younger brother and an uncle in the attack.

Battle for western Mosul will be toughest fight yet

Battle for western Mosul will be toughest fight yet

20 February 2017

Iraq's campaign to take back the western section of its second-largest city, Mosul, from so-called Islamic State (IS) will be Baghdad's last major showdown with the group, which, at its height, had controlled a third of the country's territory.
This will also be the toughest fight yet, as losing its most cherished prize will present IS with an existential challenge incomparable to any other loss it has suffered over the past two years.
Four months ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the official start of comprehensive operations to retake all of Mosul - east and west.
The timing of the announcement of the latest phase of the campaign has more to do with rallying the morale of his beleaguered forces than any significant changes in military strategy.

Maintaining motivation

The fight for the east proved more difficult and time consuming than the Iraqi government had predicted.
The initial hope from the Barack Obama administration had been that Mosul would be liberated before the handover of power in Washington.
It is becoming clear that liberating all of Mosul will take several more months.

In taking the east of Mosul, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) suffered considerable losses. According to Pentagon insiders, the casualty rates for certain forces on the front line was as high as 50%.
While this figure is denied by Iraqi military personnel in Baghdad, the government is concerned with attrition rates.
In battle, a winning side could be expected to suffer a much lower casualty rate. Incurring considerably more losses would heighten the risk of combat ineffectiveness.
For Prime Minister Abadi, just as important as weapons and funding is ensuring that his fighters on the frontline maintain battlefield morale and so far they have done so.
Time, however, is not on his side, as a prolonged campaign could erode troop resolve.

'War of the streets'

Mosul is the IS heartland. It was here, in the west, that the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made his first and only public appearance, at al-Nuri mosque.
What has become clear from the battle thus far is that IS fighters will not retreat as easily from Mosul as they did in Falluja and Ramadi.
To them, losing the city means losing a capital.




Even before the group declared its caliphate, it was an underground organisation with a strong presence in western Mosul.
Residents recall that its fighters began performing public executions in the old market long before June 2014, without any punitive action from the provincial council.
Another challenge for the ISF will be the risk of civilian casualties. As many as 800,000 residents could be trapped in the densely populated and narrow streets. They are staying put as the battle rages.
Rather than fighting in the outskirt villages, IS is looking to draw the ISF to the urban centres of the west.
For the ISF, this means having to go door-to-door to flush out IS fighters, who are hiding among the population. The battle is already being dubbed the "war of the streets".
IS fighters are also relying on car bombs, which drive towards ISF troops and checkpoints. The jihadists would send up to 10 suicide bombers per day in the east.

Striking out

To divert attention away from looming defeat, the IS leadership is looking to make a show of strength elsewhere.
When the ISF began operations in western Mosul, IS fighters launched attacks in the east, which Iraqi forces liberated over a month ago.
By doing this, IS looks to discredit ISF victories, and challenge the idea that Iraqi government forces are truly in control there.
Beyond Mosul, IS has also increased its attacks in other Iraqi cities. This includes recently liberated cities such as Falluja, but also, the capital, Baghdad.
The July 2016 bombing in Karada district, for instance, left more than 300 dead - becoming one of the largest attacks since 2003.
Since the beginning of this year, IS has killed almost 100 people in bombings in Baghdad alone.

Winning the peace

Although challenging, short-term military successes are the easy part. The key to a sustainable victory is the political settlement.
Unlike most battles raging in the Middle East, in Mosul everyone bar IS is on the same side, albeit as uneasy bedfellows in some cases.
This includes Shia and Sunni Muslims and Kurds, as well as Iranians, Americans and others.


Despite that, each party is looking to gain the most out of a victory. This contest for power may squander successes.
IS emerged not only because of its military prowess, but also because a considerable portion of Iraq's Sunni Arabs felt disenfranchised by the Shia-led government in Baghdad, as well as their own Sunni leaders.
Although many of these original supporters have since grown wary of the harsh IS rule, they will cautiously re-engage with their liberators, in hope of a better settlement.
Political infighting is the fuel that IS needs to survive, as military power alone will not do it for them.
At the moment, though, there are no clear signs of this settlement, as Prime Minister Abadi will have to juggle powerful competing forces all vying for influence in a post-IS Iraq.

VIDEO (Informative): U.S. advisors are now fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul

U.S. advisors are now fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul

February 20, 2017

US. military advisors are now fighting alongside Iraqi forces near the front lines against Islamic State, a sign of President Trump's willingness to grant more latitude to American commanders than they've had since Iraq’s ground war against the militants was launched more than two years ago.
The Trump administration has not yet granted new authorities, but has loosened the reins for U.S. generals running the war, allowing hundreds of U.S. troops to join advancing Iraqi forces as they embark on their most complex mission to date: liberating Mosul, their second largest city.
Allowing U.S. forces to head to the leading edge of the battle was almost unthinkable under the Obama administration, which was reluctant to be seen as putting American lives in harm's way in a foreign war.

In recent weeks, however, about 450 U.S. special forces and spotters have traveled with the Iraqis to direct airstrikes against Islamic State positions and advise Iraqi ground commanders on how best to advance on the battlefield as they move to free west Mosul, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

"It is true that we are operating closer and deeper into Iraqi formations," he told reporters at a military outpost at Baghdad International Airport. "We adjusted our posture during the east Mosul fight, and we embedded advisors a bit farther down into the formation."
Townsend made the disclosure during James N. Mattis' first visit to the Iraqi capital as Defense secretary. Mattis plans to submit a more aggressive battle plan to defeat Islamic State to the White House by month's end, and he hinted a willingness to grant more leeway to U.S. officers overseeing the war.
"We'll accommodate any requests from the field commanders," he said. "Right now, our allies -- as you can tell from the casualty lists -- are carrying the overwhelming burden of this fight in their own territory."
The authority to put U.S. forces near combat lines, rather than back at headquarters, was quietly granted in November under President Obama in his last days of office.
It wasn't clear why Obama granted the authority, but U.S. generals running the fight against Islamic State appear to be embracing newfound freedom under Trump to make full use of it.
Additionally, Trump ordered Mattis to devise a new battle plan to defeat Islamic State. It's due at the end of the month.
The Pentagon didn't publicly announce the change in protocol, but it became apparent Sunday after scores of uniformed U.S. soldiers were seen fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi forces in the assault on west Mosul, the Islamic State's last major stronghold in the country.
U.S. forces now go "as close as they need to get," said Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the campaign against Islamic State.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced the much-anticipated assault early Sunday, and by nightfall roughly five square miles had been recaptured on the southern outskirts of the western bank of the Tigris River.
Iraqi forces pressed their attack Monday, getting to within striking distance of the city’s southern entrance on the second day of their offensive.
Iraq’s official combat media said units from the federal police and its special forces arm, the emergency response division, had wrested control of Albu Sayf, the last Islamic State-held area before the city. The latest push brings the troops within striking distance of Mosul’s airport at the southern edge of the city.
A second prong of the attack cleared a stretch of the Baghdad-Mosul highway leading into the city, further tightening a weeks-long blockade on the western half of Mosul.
Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris River, was seized by a skeleton force of Islamic State militants who swatted away a government force of some 20,000 men in the summer of 2014. It became the extremist group’s Iraqi capital: Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the group’s leader, announced the creation of a “caliphate” in a mosque in west Mosul’s Old City.
Since then, security forces have been eager at a chance for redemption. They got it in October, when the government, backed by the U.S.-led coalition, began its campaign, taking the city’s eastern bank after 100 days of fighting so intense that it forced the government to take a break.
On Monday afternoon, convoys comprising dozens of Humvees, mine-protected vehicles and construction trucks from the Iraqi counter-terrorism service were gathering near the village of Athbah, six miles from the city.





The counter-terrorism service, an elite U.S.-trained group that specializes in urban warfare, has led the charge against every Islamic State bastion, including east Mosul. It will face a potentially more difficult job in the city’s western districts, home to an estimated 750,000 to 800,000 people packed in a more densely populated area.
Iraqi officials say the terrain of west Mosul makes clear the need for U.S. military advisors to work alongside and help direct precision airstrikes. The ancient city is densely populated with narrow streets, alleyways and close-built communities. One miscalculation could lay generations of antiquities to waste.
Sabeh Noman, spokesman for the Iraqi military’s elite counter-terrorism service, said there is little room for error. Combat vehicles are too wide to navigate through many streets, so the Iraqis will be locked in house-to-house urban combat.
East Mosul was liberated last month by Iraqi forces. The four-month operation was hard-fought and backed by hundreds of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
In that part of the city, a fighter jet could drop a 2,000-pound bomb to destroy a building, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Matt Isler said. On the west side, that same bomb would take down eight buildings.
Having a U.S. spotter to help deliver airstrikes mitigates against leveling city blocks, Isler said.
Trump repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he would make a priority of defeating Islamic State, and went so far as to call Obama the “founder” of the group for presiding over the conditions that led to its creation. In his inaugural address, he vowed to “eradicate” Islamist terrorism “completely from the face of the Earth.”
Whether the new military blueprint under Trump will speed the end of the battle against Islamic State is far from certain, but Iraqi officials believe it will be crucial against the 2,000 militants still inside the city.
Ousting the Sunni Muslim extremists from Mosul is a major objective for Abadi's fragile government. He has set a goal of regaining control of his nation's territory and borders by the end of this year.

There is no question that a successful U.S.-backed assault with 50,000 Iraqi and Kurdish troops on a major urban center would mark a turning point in a war that has been slow-moving, with constant setbacks, since the Iraqi forces abandoned the city and left their weapons behind in 2014.
Even with U.S. special operations troops near the battle, Iraqi troops have the greater burden of evicting the militants and securing the city.
When Mattis stepped off the C-17 cargo plane into the morning sun, it marked his first return to the war-torn country where he spent years in combat as a Marine Corps officer before retiring as a four-star general in 2013.
He said he was heartened by his discussions with Abadi and other senior Iraqi government officials despite the near-constant war in Iraq for more than two decades.
"There's been a lot of rocky times out here," he said. "There is no doubt from my discussions today that the Iraqi people, the Iraqi military, and the Iraqi political leadership recognize what they're up against."