While not entirely its end, Mosul’s liberation will be a major blow to the takfiri terrorists in the region.
The Iraqi Army has made good progress in clearing West Mosul of remnants of the takfiri terrorists that go by different names—Daesh, ISIS, ISIL etc. Within the last ten days of March, Iraqi ground troops have been engaged in fierce battles with the takfiris in Mosul’s Old City, a warren of narrow alleys where fighting is difficult. The army and Federal Police have retaken control of the city’s railway station, and captured three of the five bridges linking the eastern half of the city to the west across the Tigris River as well as government buildings. They are now closing in on the strategic al-Nuri Mosque.
While on the run, the takfiris have resorted to their signature tactics: car and suicide bombings in Mosul as well as elsewhere especially Baghdad where on March 20 a car bomb killed at least 23 people and injured another 45 in Hay al Amil, a predominantly Shia business district in the Iraqi capital. In West Mosul itself, where the takfiri terrorists are holed up in a small area now, they are resorting to car bombings, booby traps and sniper fire.
What is the total number of takfiris left in the city is subject to wild speculation. American officials estimate that 2,000 remain in the city; other estimates put the figure at as low as 500. At their peak, the takfiris had some 60,000 men under arms. When East Aleppo was cleansed of these people, the Russians estimated a total of 55,000 were still in Syria.
The really big question is: where is al-Baghdadi? He is an elusive character and has seldom appeared in public. Those familiar with his tactics say that he may have fled the city much earlier. In another indication that his end may be nigh, al-Baghdadi has already designated a successor. At least he appears to be realistic about his chances of survival.
Whether in the city or not, al-Baghdadi must be a deeply worried man. His ranks of mercenaries have been sharply depleted as a result of relentless bombardment from the air and the rapid advances of Iraqi troops and allied militias on the ground. Despite such progress, however, the black flag of the takfiris still flies from al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, the same mosque where al-Baghdadi had declared himself ‘Khalifah’ in July 2014 after his mercenary hordes had captured the city a month earlier.
How the takfiri terrorists could drive in brand new Toyota pickup trucks (who provided these?), unopposed, across the open desert to capture Mosul has still not been explained. What is known is that the US-trained Iraqi army fled their posts. The officers told the troops under their command that everyone must decide for himself.
Not surprisingly, the ill-motivated and poorly-trained Iraqi troops also fled. They even left their weapons behind that the takfiris made good use of once they captured the city. Mosul became the self-styled capital of the self-styled Khilafah of al-Baghdadi. It needs stating that because of the sectarian policies of the Iraqi government, many Sunni tribes turned against Baghdad and joined al-Baghdadi. Sectarianism is a sensitive issue and people can be easily duped into falling into the trap. It is for the government and decision-makers to take steps so that people do not feel marginalized. Despite being cognizant of this fact, the Iraqi government clearly needs to do a lot more on this score.
The ground realities, however, have changed from three years ago. The Iraqi army has been re-organized; there is a new government in Baghdad led by Haider al-Abadi who announced on March 14 that those takfiris that surrender would be given a fair trial. Others would face a certain death at the hands of the advancing Iraqi troops. This is different from the policy the Syrian government is pursuing. Damascus has announced that anyone that surrenders will be allowed to resume normal life without fearing any persecution or prosecution. This has led to a significant number of takfiris surrendering.
Perhaps the situation in Iraq, especially in Mosul is different. Two factors may account for it. First, those that make up the takfiris are the hardcore of the group. Second, there are also many remnants of the Ba‘thist army that were made redundant when the US occupied Iraq. The Americans were asked to leave in 2011 but they are back again, even if they claim to be helping and advising the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmarga.
Recent reports suggest that coalition air strikes [by US and Iraqi planes and helicopters] on takfiri positions have resulted in eliminating a number of senior commanders. Iraq’s defence ministry said in a statement on March 19 that an air strike on the takfiris’ command centre in the Old City killed commander Abdul Kareem al-Rusi (from Russia), head of the Tareq Bin Ziyad brigade, as well as a British-Algerian, a French-Syrian, a Turkish commander and two fighters from Morocco. If true, this would be a major blow to the takfiris since several of their more seasoned commanders have been eliminated.
Not surprisingly, Iraqi officers are issuing upbeat statements. For instance, General Khalid al-Obedi, commander of the police, told reporters on the frontline: “We are advancing toward the Old City. Their resistance is weakening. They are mostly using car bombs and that shows they are losing on the ground.”
The Iraqi federal police also reported arresting Husam Sheet al-Jabouri, the local chief of Diwan al-Hisba, a takfiri unit responsible for enforcing the obscurantist Wahhabi interpretations of Islam. Al-Jabouri was responsible for Mosul’s Bab al-Sijin district.
As with fighting anywhere, it results in civilians being displaced from their homes. Mosul is no exception. According to United Nations estimates, as many as 600,000 civilians may be caught inside the city. Since last October when the operation against Mosul began, about 255,000 people have been displaced, including more than 100,000 since the military campaign in western Mosul began on February 19.
As the Iraqi army made steady progress on the ground, elderly people and children were seen marching through western Mosul’s muddy streets, past bombed and pock-marked buildings trying to escape the fighting. Some civilians said they had not eaten in weeks, scrambling for supplies handed out by a local aid agency.
“It is terrible, the Daesh [Arabic name for the takfiri terrorists] have destroyed us. There is no food, no bread. There is absolutely nothing,” said one resident.
Perhaps, the takfiris’ defeat in Mosul would finally bring an end to this human and political tragedy at least in Iraq if not the entire region.