2016-11-04 18:37:51

Iraq’s second city. Isis rapidly expanded its territory in Iraq and Syria throughout that year, but has since been gradually pushed back, partly due to US-led airstrikes. Losing Mosul now could spell the end of the jihadi group’s ability to control large swaths of Iraq.

The long-awaited operation to take back Mosul began on 17 October, involving a coalition of more than 30,000 troops drawn from Iraqi army forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shia militias, supported by airstrikes from a US-led coalition. Turkish forces are also involved despite Iraqi government opposition.

Around 6,000 Isis fighters could be holed up in the city among more than a million civilians. It was agreed that only the Iraqi army would enter Mosul, due to fears its mainly Sunni inhabitants would see the Kurdish and Shia forces as too partisan.

Multi-pronged attack

After one week, progress was made to the north, south and east of Mosul despite Isis using a variety of defensive tactics. Advancing forces faced roadside bombs, dug-in snipers, fleets of suicide car bombs and oil fire haze. The jihadis also launched diversionary attacks, most significantly in Kirkuk. It was also reported that Isis fighters were forcing people from the countryside into the city to use as human shields. Most progress was made east of the city, where Iraqi forces took the baton from the peshmerga who overwhelmed several villages in the first few days of fighting. A southern push by Iraqi army troops and Shia militias lagged behind the faster-moving eastern axis.

Pushing deeper

Iraqi special forces reached Mosul’s eastern edge on 31 October after just over two weeks of fighting along the main Irbil road. Footholds were established in districts such as Gogjali and Karama before the westward offensive resumed on 4 November in the face of heavy Isis resistance. Advancing troops are expected to face a brutal street fight in heavily mined terrain, with booby-trapped bridges and Isis fighters concealed in tunnels. This may yet extend the operation’s length to the months forecast in many initial estimates.