Iraqi Forces, Mosul, soldier running in street (VOA, 2017) [880x440]

Last Days of ISIS in Mosul

Coalition Forces Close to Victory in Mosul

ISIS tunnels, mortars and fighting positions have been destroyed by the most recent strikes against ISIS in Mosul. The US Department of Defense released latest details of Coalition strikes in Iraq, Friday, June 30, showing that Coalition military forces conducted four strikes consisting of 44 engagements against ISIS targets.

Near Beiji, a strike destroyed an ISIS vehicle, a staging area, a tactical vehicle, a storage facility and a vehicle-borne bomb.

Near Mosul, three strikes engaged an ISIS tactical unit; destroyed 14 fighting positions, four supply caches, two tunnels and a mortar system; and suppressed an ISIS tactical unit.

Additionally, a further strikes was conducted in Iraq on June 28 that closed within the last 24 hours.

Near Mosul, Iraq, a strike engaged an ISIS tactical unit; destroyed four fighting positions, three medium machine guns, a supply cache, a mortar system, a staging area and a heavy machine gun; damaged two fighting positions and two ISIS supply routes; and suppressed an ISIS tactical unit.

Iraqi Forces Claiming Victory as Battle Continues

Waiting for Iraqi generals to escort them on a victory tour of Mosul’s Old City, Iraqi Special Forces soldier Raith al-Shababi says Mosul has not been completely captured, but the end is near, according to Voice of America. Outside the general’s office, al-Shababi shows a reporter a picture on his phone.

“This is my brother,” he said. “Daesh,” al-Shababi explained, holding his finger up to his head like a gun. “Boom, boom.” His brother was 21 when Islamic State militants killed him.

But the losses endured over eight months of fighting, three years of IS rule in Mosul and more than a decade of constant extremist attacks, he observes, make the coming milestone more sad than celebratory.

“We’ve won, but look around you,” said Col. Saaed Badeer Katam, of the Special Forces Najaf Battalion. “Everything is destroyed.”

The al-Nuri Mosque, the symbolic heart of IS was bombed by militants in June, and is now in the hands of Iraqi forces, prompting the declaration of victory in Mosul. (H.Murdock)

The al-Nuri Mosque, the symbolic heart of IS was bombed by militants in June, and is now in the hands of Iraqi forces, prompting the declaration of victory in Mosul. (H.Murdock/VOA)

Even the al-Nuri Mosque, the victory tour’s destination, is in ruins, with its iconic minaret chopped down and prayer space destroyed. Abu-Bakar al-Baghdadi declared himself “Caliph” of IS in 2014 in this mosque. Three years later IS destroyed it.

Living in the battle zone, Col. Katam says he is not concerned that victory has been declared before the end of the fighting. Airstrikes pound IS targets as he speaks, and militants lob mortars and snap off sniper fire. Soldiers are fighting house to house, and families continue to flee the fighting.

Katam explodes IEDs that litter the re-captured streets of Old Mosul, hidden in debris and even in children’s toys. Buildings in the area are crushed and abandoned, and militants’ corpses rot in the streets. Under the piles of rubble are the remains of families killed when houses collapsed in airstrikes, sometimes burying them alive.

“I lost 25 of my friends in the fight for Mosul,” said Kaisar, 28, an Iraqi Special Forces fighter. When asked if he is happy about the victory, he replies, “I’m just tired. I want to go home.”

The al-Nuri Mosque is also one of Mosul's most ancient and beloved treasures, making its loss heartbreaking for many Iraqis, June 30, 2017, Mosul, Iraq. (H.Murdock)

The al-Nuri Mosque is also one of Mosul’s most ancient and beloved treasures, making its loss heartbreaking for many Iraqis, June 30, 2017, Mosul, Iraq. (H.Murdock/VOA)

Islamic State Still Holding Large Parts of Iraq

For Iraqi fighters, going home will be a break, but not the end of the war. Militants continue hiding out in Iraqi-controlled territory, poised to strike again. IS still holds large parts of Iraq, including parts of Anbar province, Hawija and the strategic city of Tal Afar, according to Col. Katam.

“Operations will continue until IS is finished,” he noted.

Tal Afar has been surrounded by Popular Mobilization Units, or Hashd Shaaby fighters, since last year, though an advance to retake the city itself has not yet begun.

And the terrain around Tal Afar is so rough that it is impossible to completely secure, added Katam. Militants fleeing other areas will finally retreat to the city if they can.

“The last place we fight will be Tal Afar,” he said. “And there, they will fight to the death.”

Islamic State Sleeper Cells

“Sleeper cells” in Iraqi-controlled Mosul already are conducting attacks. Last week three suicide bombers targeted eastern Mosul, killing and maiming people in a market.

Early this week, 40 to 50 militants believed to be hiding out in an abandoned industrial zone overran two neighborhoods of western Mosul in an apparent attempt to distract Iraqi forces from their battle in Old Mosul.

“They thought Iraqi forces would leave Old Mosul so some other militants could escape,” said Sergeant Mahmoud Mohammad of the Iraqi Army’s 9th division. “But they failed.”

Special Forces and Iraqi Army soldiers killed all of the battling militants, he said, showing us bloodstains on the floor of one house. The blood is still sticky, and two bullet shells are on the floor. Mohammad thinks it was an IS double execution.

Returning neighbors say there was pandemonium when IS showed up in an area controlled by Iraq since mid-April. Families were separated as everyone ran when they saw the bushy beards and traditional clothes. They don’t know if anyone was killed.

Soldiers and civilians agree, however, that more sleeper cells are hiding out all over Mosul and that attacks are far from over.

“Of course we are always afraid,” said Mohammad, a 31-year-old father of seven who lives in Tenek, one of the areas briefly overrun by IS early this week. “But where else are we going to go?”

Soldiers with Iraqi Special Forces Najaf Battalion explode IEDs littering the roads in recently recaptured areas of Old Mosul on June, 30, 2017 in Mosul, Iraq. (H.Murdock/VOA)

Soldiers with Iraqi Special Forces Najaf Battalion explode IEDs littering the roads in recently recaptured areas of Old Mosul on June, 30, 2017 in Mosul, Iraq. (H.Murdock/VOA)

Islamic State Resurgent in Neighboring Provinces

With U.S.-backed Iraqi forces close to ending the Islamic State group’s grip on Mosul, security forces in neighboring Iraqi provinces are increasingly concerned about extremists moving into their areas, highlights a report by Voice of America.

Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahuddin provinces have recently witnessed a surge in IS activities, and local security forces fear possible terror attacks by IS militants fleeing Mosul.

“IS terrorists have raised their black flags in many villages and plains across the provincial borders,” said Lieutenant Colonel Faruq Ahmed, head of the security department in Tuz Khurmatu, 200 kilometers from Mosul. “Some of those areas have not had many IS fighters since 2014.”

When it swept across northern and western Iraq in 2014, IS controlled large areas of land in the three provinces.

After Mosul, Recapturing Hawija

IS later lost most of that territory to Kurdish and Iraqi forces supported by the U.S.-led coalition, along with Iran-backed Shi’ite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces, with the exception of the city of Hawija, west of Kirkuk. Iraqi officials say recapturing Hawija will be their next goal after the Mosul offensive is completed.

Intelligence reports tell of IS movements across the borders of all three provinces, and Ahmed said security forces in Tuz Khurmatu are on high alert for possible “imminent” attacks.

Villagers living in the outskirts of Sulaiman Bek, a town in eastern Salahuddin province, said they saw 10 trucks full of IS fighters crossing into Qara Tapa town, north of Diyala.

Kurdish forces, the Iraqi army and PMF “are closely coordinating together to respond to any IS surprise attacks,” Ahmed said.

Islamic State Hit-and-Run Attacks

A Kurdish commander, Colonel Luqman Muhammad, leads Peshmerga forces in the triangle where the borders of Kirkuk, Diyala and Salahuddin meet. He told VOA that IS militants have been moving into the three provinces in small groups of 10 to 12 fighters to avoid being targeted by coalition airstrikes.

IS fighters have been staging hit-and-run attacks against Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi army units and Shi’ite militias.

Peshmerga forces foiled a major IS attempt last week to control the strategic border triangle, Muhammad said, thanks to support missions flown by warplanes of the Global Coalition.

“The planes hit them about three times and forced them to disperse,” he said. “We killed two of them and seized a lot of weapons after two hours of confrontation.”

Islamic Militants Enlist Villagers’ Support with Bribery, Threats

Muhammad said increased IS activity could continue for some time after the extremists are driven out of Mosul. Islamic State fighters have managed to establish secret cells in the region, he said, by appealing to disenfranchised Sunni Arabs.

The three provinces near Mosul have been in a state of fluctuation ever since Operation Desert Storm, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Their populations are a complex of Sunnis, Kurds and Shi’ites. Sunni leaders say their community feels increasingly marginalized by Kurdish and Shi’ite groups that have territorial ambitions in the region.

Khairuallah Abdullah, a Sunni activist from Kirkuk, told VOA that IS fighters are pressuring Sunni villagers to support their insurgent attacks on Shi’ite and Kurdish forces.

“IS uses money to buy the loyalty of villagers who have just returned to their homes,” he said. “Those who refuse to pledge loyalty, especially the village headmen, face torture and death.”

Featured Image: Iraqi Forces, Mosul, soldier running in street (VOA, 2017).

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