Sunday, January 22, 2017

Musings On Iraq In The News

The Los Angeles Times did a feature on me. I was also quoted in "Kurds call for Trump's support 'to crush ISIS" in ARA News. Finally, my interview with Reuters' Stephen Kalin on the battle for Mosul was reprinted by EA Worldview.

Mosul Campaign Day 97, Jan 21, 2017

The Iraqi army is completing the last phase of the operations in east Mosul. The 16th Division freed the last part of Arabi a two-part neighborhood in the northeast. The Iraqi Forces (ISF) originally attacked the area on January 16 and had been declaring it liberated everyday since. There are two parts to Arabi and the reports were not distinguishing one from the other. The army is also taking on Rashidiya the last district of east Mosul still under Islamic State control. The Division took Qawsiyat a town in Rashdiya. It is a rather large area, so it may take a few days to completely liberate.

In the central section of east Mosul the Golden Division is clearing areas and a Shabak Hashd brigade is to be deployed to help with that effort and hold the area. The Hashd were supposed to stay out of the city, but probably because there is a manpower shortage of police to stay in the liberated areas as the army and Golden Division shift to attacking west Mosul this unit was deployed. It is also not a Shiite Arab unit so that might be a factor as well. Many people in Mosul said they were afraid of Shiite Hashd forces committing abuses.

Iraqi and American commanders gave some of their thoughts on why IS was routed after the Mosul campaign got back underway at the end of December. One major factor was the bombing of the bridges across the Tigris. That cut down the number of car bombs IS could deploy. At first these were armored behemoths that were hard to destroy. Later they were regular civilian cars. Knocking out the bridges also meant IS could not re-supply. The Iraqi forces found fewer arms caches the farther they pushed into the city. There were also fewer IS fighters due to attrition and the bridges being down. Finally, the Golden Division carried out night raids that took out IS commanders.

Hundreds of IS fighters are trying to get across the Tigris River which divides the two halves of the city. The U.S. led Coalition announced that it destroyed 90 boats and three barges trying to ferry insurgents across the waterway over three days in the third week of January. The Iraqis have destroyed a number of these vessels as well. That would imply that the Iraqi and Coalition forces are making a concerted effort to take out as many IS fighters as possible while they are vulnerable in the water.

Out west the Hashd are still announcing a sixth phase of operations there. The Hashd surrounded Tal Afar weeks ago, but the ISF is in no rush to take the town leaving the Hashd in a holding position. That leaves them to attack the small towns in the district.

The Islamic State is destroying the areas it is fleeing while attempting to maintain control in the western half of the city. The 16th Division said it saw burned homes and cars in the northeast. Residents reported that IS fighters were destroying property as they were retreating and attempting to block streets with wrecked vehicles. The group destroyed two water pumping stations to deny services to neighborhoods, which local officials are now attempting to repair. Continuing with its mini-scorched earth policy IS blew up the Mosul Hotel in the west, the second largest in the city. It is also stepping up security, stopping people from gathering in large groups, shutting down stores, executing people, etc. On top of that the western half of the city is suffering from a lack of services, and sky rocketing prices.

The United Nations’ Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released a statement asking the government to look into a video that showed the ISF abusing and killing three captured IS fighters in central east Mosul. This is not the first time such incidents have come to light, and it will not be the last. In turn, Baghdad can’t be expected to take any action because the authorities don’t investigate nor take these matters seriously, and it might hurt morale and its image if they did.

The Associated Press ran a story on what the fight for west Mosul might be like. General Sami al-Arithi told AP that the ISF had not come up with a strategy yet. U.S. General Joseph Martin believed that the narrow streets and densely packed neighborhoods would make the fight more difficult than the east. In previous articles Iraqi commanders have expressed the view that west Mosul will be easier than the east, while the Americans have been more pessimistic. As of now it’s impossible to tell which way the battle will go.

In that same article, Ninewa officials gave their own casualty assessments. They estimated roughly 5,000 civilians inside Mosul had been killed and wounded so far, while 1,600 troops were injured or dead in the total operation. Only 187 ISF fatalities and 218 wounded have been reported inside the city. However 2,809 dead and 13,301 injured civilians have been mentioned with most of the latter coming from hospitals in Irbil reporting figures to the U.N. The real cost of the campaign will likely never been known as the Iraqi government is not known for transparency on such issues.


Adel, Loaa, "Army's 16 brigade destroyed 17 car bombs north of Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/16/17

George, Susannah, “Iraqi forces eye tougher fight in Mosul’s west,” Associated Press, 1/21/17

Hemid, Leyla, “Iraqi Forces Make Further Gains Against IS in Mosul,” Bas News, 1/21/17

Iraq Oil Report, "Inside Mosul: Jan. 19, 2017," 1/19/17

Al Maalomah, “Military said that Shabak popular crowd brigade given duties,” 1/21/17
- “Talabawi: Popular crowd fully prepared for the sixth stage and waiting for the zero hour,” 1/21/17

Al Mada, “Army frees Arabi neighborhood, killing 27 Daash northern left bank,” 1/22/17
- “Daesh takes revenge on the people of liberated neighborhoods by burning homes,” 1/22/17

Michaels, Jim, “Coalition warplanes take out Islamic State fleet in Mosul,” USA Today, 1/21/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, “Islamic State blow Mosul’s 2nd biggest hotel, 12 members killed,” Iraqi News, 1/21/17
- "Most Islamic State commanders in Mosul already killed, Iraqi general says," Iraqi News, 1/19/17
- "UPDATED: Iraqi forces retake 2 northern Mosul regions, very close to recapturing east," Iraqi News, 1/21/17

New Sabah, “After losing the left bank..Daesh take unprecedented measures on the right bank in Mosul,” 1/21/17
- “Daesh commits nearly hysterical crimes against the population of the right bank in Mosul,” 1/21/17
- “One neighborhood separates the joint forces from the complete liberation of the left bank of Mosul,” 1/21/17

Al Sumaria, “Member of the Nineveh Council: Daesh burned two water pumps in Mosul,” 1/21/17

UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, “UNAMI Calls on Government to Investigate Report of Torture and Murder of Captured Terror Suspects in Mosul,” 1/21/17

Xinhua, "Iraqi forces continue fighting at last IS strongholds in eastern Mosul," 1/22/17
- "Iraqi forces fight to defeat last IS strongholds in eastern Mosul," 1/21/17
- "Iraqi forces seize main part of eastern Mosul from IS," 1/18/17

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Interview Stephen Kalin of Reuters On Mosul

Stephen Kalin has been covering the Battle for Mosul for Reuters since its start in October 2016. For the last several weeks he has been reporting from inside the city covering both the frontlines and the human impact as well. Here are some of his thoughts on how the campaign has progressed. He can be followed on Twitter @stephenkalin

1. What changes were made to allow the Iraqi forces to make such dramatic progress across east Mosul since the campaign was restarted at the end of December?

According to my military sources, during a pause to refit and resupply in December, senior Iraqi commanders from the different branches held a conference to share lessons learned and agreed to speak regularly (every few days) to coordinate their movements. Some useful lessons included how to better defend against IS suicide car bombs, one of the bigger causes of ISF casualties. We’ve seen the troops at the frontlines doing a much better job now of blocking off side streets so VBIEDs can’t take them by surprise – something they were not doing nearly enough of in November. IS also seems to have slowly run through its supply of up-armoured VBIEDs, increasingly resorting to unarmoured ones that are easier to disable. Coordination between the fronts also improved. Whereas before the overall commander would check in with each front, now all the fronts are talking to each other regularly and planning how best to work together. We’ve seen many such liaison meetings near the frontlines in recent weeks. That may not be very exciting, but it seems to have been critical.

The rapid response division took over the lead in the southeast from the 9th army which took a hard hit at Salam hospital from the IS counter-attack. Backed by a large number of federal police, they made quick gains in the southeast. CTS moved to take areas on its flanks to connect with rapid response and army in the north, which made it easier to focus on forward movement. Then hitting IS from multiple directions stretched them thin. It really felt like momentum began to snowball in the ISF’s favor after a week of the new push.

2. The Islamic State seems to be breaking in east Mosul. What signs did you see that their defenses were falling apart, and what do you think that means for the fight in west Mosul?

Cutting the bridges seems to have significantly hurt their ability to resupply and redeploy fighters. They lost much of their depth of operation, which would challenge any force.

It’s hard to say what this means for the west. Most commanders I’ve spoken to say they expect the west to be much harder because the fighters there are more hardline, it’s the core of their operations, the streets are narrower and the government buildings are so symbolic that they will put up a big fight. The river is also a terrain challenge and we have yet to see how the ISF will deal with that, though they managed a similar situation in Ramadi in 2015. I think the same questions remain of west Mosul that we had about the east: will IS stand and fight or run/melt into the population? Will there be a local uprising? Will there be a humanitarian crisis? This could end sooner than most of us expect or it could drag on for many months.

3. What’s life like for the people in Mosul in the liberated areas?

Strangely normal. A few minutes from the frontlines, shops are open, traffic winds through the streets, people are cleaning up their shops and homes. Boys play football, some even sporting shorts that were forbidden under IS. But there is almost no work, very little aid is reaching the eastern districts and of course people are traumatized by the war and 2-1/2 years of IS rule. There’s only well water and generator electricity, there’s destruction on nearly every block and the sounds of artillery and aircraft overhead are sometimes nonstop. I was in a family’s home in east Mosul last week watching on al-Mousaliya TV as districts just a few kilometers away were being retaken. One of the women got a phone call that the ISF had reached her brother’s home and tears immediately flowed down her face. It was a pretty surreal moment and quite humbling to witness.

4. What has the fighting done to the city’s buildings and infrastructure?

The ISF and the coalition say they are taking lots of care to preserve buildings and infrastructure, and I think that’s true because they could easily be using heavier ordnance in order to move faster. As a result, Mosul does not look like Ramadi, where some entire blocks are leveled and it was hard to find a single block without some heavy destruction. Partly also IS has not rigged Mosul houses the way they did in Ramadi because they’ve been living here for 2-1/2 years so it just wouldn’t have been practical for them to do so. That said, electricity is out, water is out, roads are a mess, many homes and government buildings are totaled. There is a lot of destruction in Mosul and it will take a long time and a lot of money to rebuild.

Mosul Campaign Day 96, Jan 20, 2017

The Iraqi Forces (ISF) are trying to clear the last neighborhoods in northeast Mosul. Arabi was official declared freed on January 20. Hurra was also liberated along with a pharmaceutical factory. Rashidiya, the last major area held by IS was assaulted. That is a large district with many residential neighborhoods.
(Institute for the Study of War)

The ISF are already planning to attack west Mosul. The American supplied pontoon bridges arrived in the city. It appears the Iraqi commanders want to launch the assault as soon as possible so they may just focus upon a river crossing.

There were more stories on the problems within the Islamic State. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi allegedly ordered an official retreat from east Mosul. Iraq Oil Report was told that Iraqi fighters were fleeing east Mosul and leaving the foreign fighters behind. There were disagreements and even clashes between the two. People in the Andalus neighborhood in northeast Mosul said that there were teen fighters amongst the ranks of IS. The organization recently released a video of it recruiting youngsters. The group is facing food shortages in west Mosul, and hunting down deserters, confiscating their property and burning their homes in west Mosul. The group’s defenses collapsed in east Mosul. It is yet to be seen whether these issues will carry over to the west and lead to a relatively quick victory compared to the east.

Al Mada talked with the mayor of Mosul Hussein Hajim who gave his estimates for what the battle had done to east Mosul. He speculated that 100% of police stations, 90% of the roads, 60% of government buildings, 30% of schools, and 15% of residential homes suffered some type of damage. Aden and Karama were the most affected by the fighting. This will take a huge effort to rebuild, and the government may not be up to the task right now due to its lack of money. Reconstruction in Anbar’s cities has been slow going. Given Mosul’s size it will likely take even longer there.

Finally, Ali Nabhan at the Wall Street Journal wrote a touching article about how he was cut off from his best friend Omar who lived in Mosul for two years. The two knew each other from college at Mosul University before the U.S. invasion. They were able to reconnect in October 2016 via cellphone at first, and then in person inside the city itself.


Al Alam, "Iraqi Army Forces Recapture more Areas from Daesh in Mosul," 1/20/17

Buratha News, “Recent developments in the field in the process of liberating Mosul until 13:55 pm Friday, 20 01 2017,” 1/20/17

Hemid, Leyla, “Baghdadi Orders Evacuation of IS Militants in East Mosul,” Bas News, 1/20/17

MacDiarmid, Campbell, “Isis fighters flee western Mosul by boat leaving streets littered with bodies and blood,” International Business times, 1/20/17

Al Mada, “Army frees pharmaceutical plant in northern Mosul,” 1/20/17
- “Federal Police: 974 members of Daesh killed left coast Mosul,” 1/20/17
- “Left Coast battles destroyed 90% of the streets and 60% of government buildings,” 1/20/17

Nabhan, Ali, “How I Reunited With My Best Friend in a Liberated Mosul,” Wall Street Journal, 1/20/17

New Sabah, “Daesh burned homes of fleeing members in Mosul,” 1/20/17
- “Freed first Arab neighborhood north left coast of Mosul,” 1/20/17

Rudaw, “UPDATE: Iraqi army liberates major district in north of Mosul,” 1/20/17

Tahir, Rawaz, Osgood, Patrick, “Iraqi forces consolidate gains in half-liberated Mosul,” Iraq Oil Report, 1/20/17

Friday, January 20, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 95, Jan 19, 2017

The Golden Division and army were moving inside east Mosul and without. The neighborhood of Arabi was freed for the second time by the Rapid Reaction forces and the Hashd al-Watani. The 15th Division in the north took Fadiliya and Jabir Bin Hayan. The Ninewa International Hotel was declared liberated on January 18, but there were still Islamic State fighters there until January 19 when it was said to be cleared again. The Golden Division took the Presidential Palace as well. In the southeast the Federal Police were still going through areas looking for explosives and booby-traps. Outside Mosul the 9th Division and the Hashd al-Watani freed the town of Tal Keif, which had been surrounded since the Mosul operation began in October.

When all of east Mosul is freed there will likely be a pause to refit and then a push on the western side. A meeting of all the commanders is supposed to be coming that will plan on this next phase of the operation. Pontoon bridges provided by the Americans have already arrived south of Mosul to cross the Tigris. The Iraqi Forces (ISF) may also shift some forces to the south to attack from that direction, which would also mean they would not have to expose themselves to attack during a river crossing.

Everyday there are more stories of IS’s imminent demise. Golden Division General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi told the press that most of the group’s commanders had been killed in east Mosul. Al Sumaria reported that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave priority to his foreign fighters to be evacuated from east Mosul across the Tigris, which caused consternation amongst the other members. Shafaaq News was informed that the insurgents were suffering fuel and ammunition shortages in west Mosul.

Reuters wrote a piece on the U.S. advisers helping in Mosul. The Americans are involved in daily debriefings with the ISF to go over what worked and what didn’t. Besides air strikes they have also provided real time intelligence.

The number of people displaced from the campaign is continually fluctuating, but they are heading upwards overall. On December 15 there were 96,864 registered with the government and aid groups. That passed 100,000 the next week with 108,624 on December 22. By January 5 there were 132,234 displaced, 144,612 on January 12, and 158,928 on January 19. There were over 160,000 for two days during the third week of January, but then around 4,000 people returned. Those figures did not include several thousand people going back and forth within Mosul, which never signed up with any group or the authorities.

Niqash talked with three people who got out of Mosul. Ahmad al-Haj was a former textile worker from Zuhur. His family was now in Khazar Displaced Camp east of Mosul. The Golden Division came to his house and was attacked by a suicide bomber. That fighting led him to flee. Isbal Hussein said Mosul was like a prison under the Islamic State with the militants killing people for any little reason. She escaped by boat across the Tigris having to get through several IS checkpoints. Finally, Amin Miqdad was a young musician who had his instruments confiscated by IS. The militants said they were going to beat him him when they came to his house, but didn’t follow through with their threat. He moved afterward and was able to get some new instruments to continue his music. What the stories showed was how people persevered while living under the Islamic State. Some defied the rules like Amin, while others were able to escape like Isbal.

Iraqi News visited Qayara. In August 2016 IS set some of the oil fields there on fire, and many of the wells are still ablaze. They are putting up huge toxic clouds. Health officials said people were suffering from respiratory problems. A farmer blamed the fires for killing his animals. The Oil Ministry is attempting to put the wells out, but around half of them have yet to be extinguished.

There have been over 20,000 casualties since the start of the Mosul battle in October. Based on tracking reports in more than 40 papers per day including aid agencies there have 4,923 fatalities and 15,903 wounded. Civilians have been the biggest victims with 4,470 dead and 14,762 injured. Another 277 members of the ISF, 102 Hashd, 70 Peshmerga, 2 Kurdish Counterterrorism members, 1 Hashd al-Watani and 1 U.S. sailors have been reported killed, and 824 ISF, 253 Peshmerga, 59 Hashd, and 5 Hashd al-Watani wounded. The Islamic State has been accused of executing 2,749 civilians. Another 497 dead and 643 injured were blamed on Coalition Air Strikes.

Battle for Mosul Casualties Oct 17, 2016-Jan 14, 2017

4,923 Killed
1 U.S. Sailor, 1 Hashd al-Watani, 2 Kurd CT, 70 Peshmerga, 102 Hashd, 277 ISF, 4,470 Civilians

15,903 Civilians
5 Hashd al-Watani, 59 Hashd, 253 Peshmerga, 824 ISF, 14,762 Civilians


Adel, Loaa, "Army's 16 brigade destroyed 17 car bombs north of Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/16/17

Al Forat, “Ninewa We Are Coming announces freeing 37 people and killed more than 20 terrorists in Mosul,” 1/19/17

International Organization for Migration, “Iraq: Displacement Tracking Matrix, Emergency Tracking – Fact Sheet #12 – Mosul Operations from 17 October to 19 January,” 1/19/17

Iraq Oil Report, "Inside Mosul: Jan. 19, 2017," 1/19/17

Kalin, Stephen, “Iraq counts on U.S. advisers, mostly out of sight, in war on Islamic State,” Reuters, 1/19/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraqi army seizes presidential palaces in northern Mosul’s Tel Kaif,” Iraqi News, 1/19/17
- “Iraqi sheep, locals, environment suffer Islamic State oil fires,” Iraqi News, 1/19/17
- “Most Islamic State commanders in Mosul already killed, Iraqi general says,” Iraqi News, 1/19/17
- "UPDATED: Army recaptures govt buildings, hotel in northern Mosul's Tel Kaif," Iraqi News, 1/19/17

Niqash, “Three Stories From Inside: Iraqis Who Escaped Mosul Tell Their Personal Tales,” 1/19/17

Rudaw, “UPDATED: Iraqi forces take full control over Tel Kaif, north of Mosul,” 1/19/17

Shafaaq News, “Sources: Daesh suffers from acute shortages of fuel and ammunition in west Mosul,” 1/19/17

Al Sumaria, "Nineveh We Are Coming, declares presidential palaces in Mosul freed," 1/19/17
- “Source: Al-Baghdadi cleared his foreign fighters first and some arrived barefoot,” 1/19/17

Xinhua, "Iraqi forces recapture IS-held town near Mosul," 1/19/17

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 94, Jan 18, 2017

The Iraqi Forces (ISF) made more dramatic advances in east Mosul on January 18. The Golden Division freed eight neighborhoods, the archaeological site in the center of the city, and attacked the Presidential Palace, declared cleared yesterday. The army freed Qadiya in the north, and attacked Arabi. The Hashd in the west took two towns as well.

The biggest news of the day was the announcement that east Mosul was freed. This was partially misinterpreted by the press and exploited by the government for propaganda. General Talib Shaghati of the Golden Division said that east Mosul had been taken. General Abdul Amir Yarallah elaborated that just meant the unit had taken all of the areas that it was assigned in the battle plan. Southeast Mosul was freed a few days ago, and now the central section is now under control as well. There was still fighting in the northeast. General Yahia Rasoul stated the Islamic State remained in four districts in the north. In fact, one major pointed out that there was still some clashes going on along the Tigris River in the center as well. 

With most of east Mosul taken the focus is now beginning to shift to the west. General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of the Golden Division was preparing to attack the other half of the city in a few days. There was some disagreement about how the next phase of the battle would go. A few Iraqi commanders believe that the west will be easier because of the heavy losses IS has suffered. The Americans are more cautions warning that it might be tougher since it is a more built up area. There’s no telling which point of view is correct until the west is assaulted.

With the recent gains the ISF is capturing a treasure trove of insurgent documents. Two communication centers were taken, and military intelligence has found huge stashes of computer files and documents, including information on foreign fighters. Some captured material showed that IS fighters didn’t want to fight and were asking for transfers to Syria and out of Mosul. These papers just support what was already witnessed on the battlefield as IS defenses collapsed in just a few days after the offensive was renewed at the end of December.

Deutsche Welle was the latest to report on how life is trying to return to normal in sections of east Mosul. In some areas people were cleaning up and trying to do some shopping, even in areas with mortar fire. In Gogjali, which is just outside of the city, life was more bustling since it was the first area freed. One problem is that the government and aid agencies have not delivered enough supplies to the liberated areas. People also do not have jobs, which means they have little money.  That will likely be a major issue for several weeks since the government is unlikely to restart payment to its former workers or restore offices and services until the entire city is freed. Until that happens there will only be very small business activity as the authorities fuel buying power in the country as the largest employer.


Ade, Loaa, "Al-Hashd al-Shaabi liberates 2 areas in Nineveh Plain," Iraqi News, 1/18/17

AIN, “New We Are Coming: freed eastern axis of Mosul, not the Left Coast,” 1/18/17

BBC, “Mosul battle: Iraqi army prepares offensive on west of city,” 1/18/17

Buratha News, "Counter terrorism forces storm the presidential palaces on the left coast of Mosul," 1/18/17

Coles, Isabel, “Iraq special forces chief says mission accomplished in east Mosul,” Reuters, 1/18/17

Deutsche Welle, “Life returns to Mosul neighborhoods freed from IS,” 1/18/17

Al Forat, “Defense: the northern axis of Ninewa operations made significant progress on the left coast,” 1/18/17

Gladstone, Rick, “Iraqi Forces Take Eastern Mosul From Islamic State,” New York Times, 1/18/17

Iraq Oil Report, "Inside Mosul: Jan. 18, 2017," 1/18/17

Al Malomah, “Abdul Wahab al-Saadi: our troops are ready to break into the right side of Mosul,” 1/18/17
- “Pictures: Daash documents reveal unwillingness to fight in Mosul and their desire to leave,” 1/18/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, "Command denies reports that eastern Mosul was officially liberated," Iraqi News, 1/18/17
- Mohamed, “Iraqi general sees easier battles in western Mosul, American sees opposite,” Iraqi News, 1/18/17

New Sabah, “Abadi announced approaching the full liberation of Mosul,” 1/18/17
- "The Joint forces on the verge of freeing the left coast of Mosul within days," 1/17/17
- “Treasure of Daesh information in the grip of military intelligence,” 1/18/17

Rudaw, “Iraqi counter-terror forces declare victory in E. Mosul, clashes in north ongoing,” 1/18/17

Salaheddin, Sinan, “Iraq military: Troops have ‘full control’ of eastern Mosul,” Associated Press, 1/18/17

Xinhua, "Iraqi forces seize main part of eastern Mosul from IS," 1/18/17

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 93, Jan 17, 2017

The Islamic State is in full collapse in east Mosul with 11 neighborhoods falling on January 17. The Golden Division freed all of them along with the Great Mosque, the Presidential Palace, and the Ninewa Hotel. In the north, the army took the Kindi military base. The entrances to all five bridges across the Tigris River were secured as well. There was still fighting in the Ghabat area. The mayor of Mosul Hussein al-Hajem said there were only 4-7 areas in east Mosul still under IS control. Iraqi officials are always given to exaggeration and have claimed that almost all of the Left Coast side of the city was taken. Those statements have finally been realized with roughly 90% of eastern Mosul occupied.

The press was full of other examples of IS faltering. The Golden Division claimed that the insurgents didn’t even put up a fight for the neighborhoods in northeast Mosul it took during the day. IS fighters were seen fleeing across the Tigris in boats taking civilians with them as human shields so that the ISF would not fire on them. In west Mosul the militants were forcing people to join as fighters, and taking family members as hostages to enforce its draft. The big question is whether this will carry over to the next phase in the battle.

After all of east Mosul is liberated there will likely be a pause to rearm and refit and then an assault will be made across the waterway into the western Right Bank. Preparations are already being made. 5 pontoon bridges arrived at the Qayara base south of Mosul to be used to cross the Tigris. U.S. advisers have also taken up positions in four areas of east Mosul. That will provide forward operating bases to further assist the Iraqi forces with air strikes, artillery and missile fire, intelligence collection, etc.


Adel, Loaa, "CTS liberates 2 more areas, storm Jazair neighborhood in eastern Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/17/17
- "CTS liberate areas of Suez and Sanharib, station near Choser River," Iraqi News, 1/17/17
- "Security forces recapture 3 districts, Great Mosque in central Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/17/17

AIN, “Urgent anti-terrorism commander: 48 hours separate us from completing our tasks in the left coast of Mosul,” 1/17/17

Buratha News, “Recent developments in the field in the process of liberating Mosul until 14:50 Tuesday 17 01 2017,” 1/17/17
- “Recent developments in the field in the process of liberating Mosul until 16:00 Tuesday 17 01 2017,” 1/17/17

Kalin, Stephen, “Iraqis who escaped Islamic State grapple with trauma,” Reuters, 1/17/17

Al Mada, “Saadi: We killed 387 Daash in Mosul within the last 74 hours and we will liberate the left coast soon,” 1/17/17
- Saadi: one neighborhood separates the counter terrorism forces from the complete liberation of left coast of Mosul,” 1/17/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraqi forces push into IS-held pocket in Mosul: military,” Iraqi News, 1/17/17
- “IS kill mother, child escaping eastern Mosul, force civilians to fight in west,” Iraqi News, 1/17/17
- “Only 4-7 districts left to recapture eastern Mosul, militants bodies litter Tigris,” Iraqi News, 1/17/17
- “U.S. forces erect 4 military bases in Mosul preparing for new combat plans,” Iraqi News, 1/17/17
- "Updated: Iraqi forces recapture 3 neighborhoods in eastern Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/17/17

New Sabah, "The joint forces on the verge of freeing the left coast of Mosul within days," 1/17/17

Reuters, "Iraqi Forces Push Into IS-held Pocket in Mosul," 1/17/17

Rudaw, "Iraqi forces control all five bridges in Mosul, ISIS 'nearly defeated' in east," 1/17/17

Xinhua, “Iraqi forces in near full control of IS stronghold in eastern Mosul,” 1/17/17

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Interview With Agence France-Presse’s Ahmad Mousa On The Battle For Mosul

Ahmad Mousa is an Iraqi video journalist working for Agence France-Presse. In the last few months he has been working in Ninewa covering the battle for Mosul. Here are a few of his thoughts on how the campaign has progressed and what it has meant for the city and people. Mousa can be followed on Twitter @AhmadMousaQ

Smoke from a car bomb going off in eastern Mosul (Ahmad Mousa)

1. Mosul has been shelled and hit by air strikes plus all the street fighting for months now. What does the city itself look like?

Unlike some previous battles against IS, such as in Ramadi, where infrastructure and houses were largely damaged and destroyed, Most of the buildings and infrastructure is still standing in Mosul, especially residents’ houses, as there are hundreds of thousands are still living in them. However, some buildings, infrastructure and houses were damaged or destroyed during, or before, the fight.

A man fleeing the fighting in eastern Mosul (Ahmad Mousa)

2. There is a huge movement of people within and to and from the city itself. What is life like for the city’s residents?

In neighborhoods where the fight takes place, some of the residents flee their homes because of IS mortar shells that area falling, snipers, strikes and car bombs, so the scene of a large number of people fleeing those areas could be seen every day. While others decide to stay and watch from their doors as the troops advance.

3. There are constant stories of shortages and the lack of services like power and water within Mosul. Are the government and aid agencies getting into the city to provide assistance?

There is a shortage of services like water and power in Mosul, some people are managing to get power from generators, for limited periods during the day, in the neighborhoods others don’t have. Government and aid agencies are getting to the areas that were liberated in the beginning to help provide aid and services.

4. How do you think the battle will progress?

For all the success made in the eastern side of Mosul, spearheaded by the Counter-Terrorism Service but the fight is still on and there’s another half of the city still under IS control, with narrow streets, in the western side, and intensively populated old areas where vehicles can’t pass, there are many scenarios could happen along the way, including exceeding the second timeframe for the battle given by the Prime Minister.

Mosul Campaign Day 92, Jan 16, 2017

The Iraqi Forces (ISF) made more advances in central and northeast Mosul on January 16. In the north, the 15th and 16th Divisions freed Arabi, Qairawan and Kindi. In central and northern Mosul the Golden, 15th and 16th Divisions took the Nabi Younis shrine and Taqafa. In the center and south the Golden Division seized Jammasa and Majmoaa. Finally, in the southeast the Golden Division, Rapid Reaction forces and elements of the 9th division freed Shurta, while the army and Federal Police were also clearing areas taken in the last few days. The ISF found a large group of IS fighters in Andalus that was declared liberated yesterday. After they were defeated the neighborhood was marked as occupied once again.

The Islamic State is in a state of disarray, while trying to cope with its losses. There was another story about IS leaders fleeing Mosul for the west. Similar rumors have been heard since the Mosul campaign started in October. The militants set off explosives on the Third Bridge in the middle of the city to try to deny its use to the government forces. That caused a large section of the span to collapse. In east Mosul the group was forcing people from their homes to try to get them to retreat west with it to be used as human shields. It was burning homes and cars of those that did not comply, and firing on the others that tried to flee to the government’s side. It was also destroying more government buildings in its mini-scorched earth policy. Last, the ISF accused the militants of distributing month old videos of its operations within the city to make it seem like it was still fighting hard instead of falling back. IS has done that before in previous battles to keep up morale. Even with all these setbacks there are still split opinions on how the fight for west Mosul will go down. IS could have lost most of its fighters and the next phase will go quicker. It might be just as hard as the first half, or it might even be harder since the west is more densely populated and more built up with houses and buildings.

Much has been said about the United States’ increased support for the government in the second phase of the Mosul campaign, but there are other members of the Coalition. France 2 aired video of French Special Forces working right at the front with the Golden Division clearing an area in east Mosul. The French have deployed with the Peshmerga and the Golden Division for more than two years.

Reuters had a piece on how the fighting in Mosul has disrupted families’ ability to bury their dead. One family lost their mother, but because of shelling couldn’t go to the cemetery so they had to bury her in the backyard. When things stabilized they dug up the body and interned it in Gogjali graveyard. That story symbolized life for those that have stayed in the city. When there was fighting in their neighborhood life was upset and people had to shelter in their home or with others, but when that passed they could start putting things back together.

Rudaw talked with the President of Mosul University Dr. Obay Saeed al-Dewachi who was already talking about rebuilding the school. The physical destruction done to the facility was extensive because it has been hit by air strikes and artillery heavier than other parts of the city because there were no civilians there. Another major problem is the loss of staff. Dr. Dewachi said that 56 lecturers were executed by the Islamic State and another 20 killed during the fighting. The president already had talks with the Ministry of Higher Education about how to proceed. This is a huge task, but it’s good that plans are underway to try to revive this important school.

Aid groups continued to worry about the humanitarian situation within Mosul. They are afraid of shortages of food and services in west Mosul. Assistance also has to be delivered to people in the liberated areas of east Mosul.  The U.N. and other groups are handing out emergency packages. The government is starting to restore the food ration system to parts of the city. Services however are sporadic and there are fears that food is running short. There are three trauma centers close to the front to provide triage to civilians and ISF killed and wounded in the fighting, and there are plans to build another.

People continue to flow out of Mosul. From January 9 to 15 around 12,500 new displaced were registered. Most of those came from east Mosul and went to camps in Kurdistan or south of the city in the Qayara district. Of the 140,000 total displaced 87% are in camps. Since there are tight restrictions on letting people out of these places the aid groups are trying to provide all of the amenities like schools. The tough conditions in the camps and the lack of freedom of movement has been one factor that has led to so many people staying in Mosul rather than leaving.

Finally, during the first two weeks of January there were a reported 465 killed, and 341 wounded. Because of government censorship only 35 members of the joint forces were said to have died, and 12 wounded. In comparison, the U.N. reported that roughly 1,590 ISF were wounded, and 1,410 civilians from the end of December to the second week of January. That showed the huge disparity between what gets into the press and what is really happening on the ground.


Adel, Loaa, “25 members of Islamic State killed north of Mosul,” Iraqi News, 1/16/17
- "Army's 16 brigade destroyed 17 car bombs north of Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/16/17

Agence France Presse, “Iraq forces retake IS-bombed ‘Jonah’s tomb’ in Mosul,” 1/16/17

Buratha News, “Recent developments in the field during the process of liberating Mosul until 17:15 Monday 16 01 2017,” 1/16/17

Coles, Isabel, “Iraqi forces battle Islamic State near Tigris river in Mosul,” Reuters, 1/16/17

Al Forat, “Ninewa We Are Coming announced the deaths of dozens of terrorists and freed seven neighborhoods in Mosul,” 1/16/17
- "Popular crowd kills five Daash trying to infiltrate a village west of Mosul," 1/16/17

Iraq Oil Report, “Inside Mosul: Jan. 14, 2017,” 1/16/17
- “Inside Mosul: Jan. 15, 2017,” 1/16/17
- "Inside Mosul: Jan. 16, 2017," 1/16/17

Kalin, Stephen, “Trapped by war, Mosul residents bury their dead wherever they can,” Reuters, 1/16/17

Karim Soran, "IS Fire Wounds Reporter and Cameraman in Mosul," Bas News, 1/16/17

Al Maalomah, “Abdul Wahab al-Saadi: Baghdadi ordered the closure of Diwan offices after foreign fighters turn on members,” 1/16/17
- “Clashes and splits in the ranks of the Daesh criminals on the right coast of Mosul,” 1/16/17

Al Mada, “16th Division up to the heights of the Arabi neighborhood northern Mosul,” 1/16/17
- “Destroyed 17 Daesh car bombs during the liberation of northern axis of Mosul,” 1/16/17
- “Killing 25 Daesh during process of liberation northern Mosul,” 1/16/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, "Army recaptures two of last few Islamic State-held districts in eastern Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/16/17
- “UPDATED: Army invades Shurta district in eastern Mosul,” Iraqi News, 1/16/17

New Sabah, “Daesh organization fragmenting and losing control of its members,” 1/16/17
- “The joint forces liberated Kindi north Mosul,” 1/16/17

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Humanitarian Bulletin Iraq, December 2016,” 1/15/17

Ollieric, Dorothee, “REPORT FRANCE 2. Close to the French special forces against the Islamic State in Iraq,” France 2, 1/15/17

Rudaw, “Bombed and burnt Mosul University hopes to once again be top Iraqi school,” 1/16/17
- “Iraqi forces control Nabi Younis Shrine in eastern Mosul as ISIS runs,” 1/16/17

Shafaaq News, “Daesh destroyed a large part of third bridge in Mosul,” 1/16/17
- "Iraqi forces thwart a suicide attack in northern Mosul," 1/16/17

Al Sumaria, “Daesh spreading old videos of its fighters in Mosul,” 1/16/17

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Iraq: Mosul Humanitarian Response Situation report No. 16 (9 January – 15 January 2017), 1/15/17

Xinhua, "Iraqi forces push further into Mosul amid fierce clashes with IS militants," 1/17/16

Monday, January 16, 2017

Interview With Journalist Florian Neuhof On The Mosul Campaign

Florian Neuhof is a freelance journalist who has written for The National, The Daily Beast, Middle East Eye, and other publications. He has covered the Mosul campaign since it started in October, and embedded with the Peshmerga and Golden Division. Here are some of his observations about the fight. He can followed on Twitter @FlorianNeuhof

1. The original Mosul plan was for the Iraqi army, police and Golden Division to all converge on the city at the same time. The northern and southern fronts stalled however, and the Golden Division got to the city first and was told to push on ahead. Do you have any thoughts on why the campaign fell apart?

It is a bit of a mystery to me why the campaign was so disjointed for so long. I'm not privy to the political and military decision making on the Mosul operation, but it seems to me that Abadi was under pressure to show results, and so decided to send in the Golden Division (GD) before the other forces were ready. I think an underestimation of the defenses also played a part, certainly right at the top, which would explain why the GD charged headlong into Mosul before checking their pace and advancing more methodically.

The poor performance of the army and police may also be down to a lack of time to properly prepare and train these units. In addition, some of the top commander chosen to lead these men seem pretty inept.

2. In just a few days the battle for Mosul has been transformed from a slow slog to a quick advance across most of the eastern section of the city. Why do you think the fight changed so dramatically?

Apart from the reasons given by the coalition - better coordination, more US SF assistance and better tactics - you now have considerably more capable forces in eastern Mosul after the arrival of the Rapid Response Forces and some able police units. And while sending in the GD ahead of everyone else was strategic nonsense, it did soften up ISIS defenses prior to the renewed push early in the new year. The Iraqis where able to replace their destroyed material and beef up their forces. ISIS on the other hand cannot resupply the east bank from the west any more, and has limited manpower in Mosul anyway.

I saw a lot more air support the last couple of times I went into Mosul, which might be a consequence of US special forces getting closer to the action. At the same time, the Iraqi forces are coming up with better ways to deal with suicide car bombers, which have been a real hazard during the past three months. The Rapid Response Forces for instance tell the inhabitants to park their cars across the road as soon as they enter an area, so blocking off avenues of attack. Those two things combined shifts the advantage back to the military in terms of guided ordinance.

3. After east Mosul is freed the next big move will be crossing the Tigris River and taking on the western half of the city. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what that will be like, the same, harder, or easier than the east. Any predictions for the coming fight?

I fear it will be tougher still. The roads in the old parts of West Mosul are narrow and windy, the neighborhoods more densely packed. Moslawis have told me that support for ISIS is higher in the west. Civilians and soldiers have told me that a lot of the foreign fighters have retreated to the west bank. These fighters have a reputation of being better than local ISIS combatants. The terror group may still have half of its fighters left to defend the west bank.

That said, I think the tactical advantage has shifted to the Iraqi military. ISIS has sprung its surprise by throwing waves of suicide bombers at the attackers, but the military has been able to devise ways of better dealing with these. The ISF should also be able to learn from its mistakes in the past, while the US has realized that it needed to up its support. ISIS on the other hand may well have run out of ideas, recent innovations like dropping grenades from drones have proven pretty ineffective. So hopefully my fears will prove unfounded.

4. You recently wrote about Gogjali, which is just outside east Mosul and is being used as a hub for people going in and out of Mosul as well as supplies, and Sumer that is a neighborhood in the southeast. What is life like for the civilian population in different parts of the city and suburbs?

I visited the areas close to the university yesterday, and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly some semblance of normality has been restored. Food and fuel seems to be reaching these parts in sufficient quantities, and people are out on the streets and in their cars. That said, I don't think the electricity and water supply has been restored in those areas either. The damage to the infrastructure is significant, not just due to the fighting but also because of the neglect during the ISIS occupation. But only days after the liberation, you can already see work to repair damaged roads underway, and electricity cables being hung.

Mortars are flying in from the other side of the river, and this is likely to remain a problem for a while, while I think there will be terror attacks on civilians by sleeper cells. But these might be less frequent than anticipated, as many ISIS sympathizers followed the retreating jihadists, and the security forces will be able to root out others with the help of the local population.

Mosul Campaign Day 91, Jan 15, 2017

The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued to plow through northeast Mosul. The 15th and 16th Divisions took Kafat 2 in the north. The Golden Division took Andalus next to the Mosul University. It was also clearing Nassir and Faisaliya nearby, and the school itself, as well as areas in the southeast along with the Federal Police. The Mosul Airport in the south was now in range of the ISF, and being shelled before it is attacked. A spokesman for the Joint Operations Command claimed that the government was now in control of 90% of the eastern half of the city, but it’s more like 75%. General Abdul al-Asadi from the Golden Division predicted that all of the east would fall in two days. Whatever the timeframe the battle has significantly changed. No longer are the ISF slogging through the city and continuously retaking the same areas. Now they are rapidly advancing across Mosul.

Mosul University was set on fire by the Islamic State as it retreated (AP)

There were several reports about Mosul University. The campus was taken rather quickly. That was in part because there were no civilians there so more air strikes could be called in. It was a big loss for the Islamic State as it used the school as a command and control center. It also produced weapons there, and even a chemical lab was discovered. 

Al Sumaria reported that IS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi demoted all the commanders in eastern Mosul for their losses. The source went on to say that they were placed on the frontlines as further punishment.

The humanitarian situation in east Mosul continues to be an issue. The U.N. reported that there are water and food shortages. The United Nations and a few other aid groups are providing packages to residents, but that’s not on a regular basis. Preemptive Love Coalition one of the few organizations working within Mosul challenged others to start operating inside the city. Most of the NGOs are in Kurdistan in part because it is safe, and second because the Iraqi government told them not to set up in Mosul. They need to mobilize so that they can service as many people as possible.

Reuters was the latest to report on the back and forth life for the people of Mosul. In some places people are starting to rebuild their lives. In Zuhur markets were open and kids were playing soccer. In other areas people were fleeing, and some were heading out of the city for Kurdistan. Once east Mosul is freed much of this internal displacement will hopefully come to an end. Of course then the assault on the western half will began, and a whole new movement of people will start.

Finally, the United Nations provided a glimpse into the casualties caused by the fighting. Since the Mosul campaign restarted at the end of December almost 3,000 injured were sent to hospitals in Irbil. 47% of those were civilians and 53% were members of the security forces. There is very little news coming out of Iraq about casualties, especially about the ISF. The U.N. is one of the few making any kinds of report on the losses.


Adel, Loaa, "Counter-Terrorism forces liberate Andalus neighborhood in Mosul," Iraqi News, 1/15/17

ARA News, “Western aid groups urges NGOs to deliver direct aid to people inside Mosul,” 1/15/17

Arraf, Jane, “Iraqi Troops Edge Deeper Into Mosul – With Caution,” NPR, 1/15/17

Buratha News, “Asadi: We expect the completion of our tasks on the left coast of Mosul in two days,” 1/15/17
- “Joint Operations: liberated 90 percent of left coast of Mosul and the city’s airport under fire,” 1/15/17
- “Mosul operations commander announces details of last 17 hours in fight in Mosul,” 1/15/17
- “Recent developments in the field in the operation to liberate Mosul until 14:40 pm Sunday, 15 01 2017,” 1/15/17

Coles, Isabel, “In parts of Mosul, a semblance of normality despite war,” Reuters, 1/15/17

Al Forat, “Ninewa We Are Coming: the killing of tens of terrorists and clearing several districts in Mosul,” 1/15/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, “4000 refugees left Mosul in 24 hours: aid group,” Iraqi News, 1/15/17
- “Army combs Mosul University after driving out Islamic State,” Iraqi News, 1/15/17
- “Iraqi Forces retake northern, eastern Mosul districts from IS,” Iraqi News, 1/15/17
- “IS to vigilante killed in western Mosul civilians homes burned in east,” Iraqi News, 1/15/17
- “Islamic State chief demotes eastern Mosul commanders over combat failures,” Iraqi News, 1/15/17

Neuhof, Florian, “Mosul university: once ISIL’s weapons factory, now a liberated ruin,” The National, 1/15/17

New Sabah, “The combined forces control 905 of the left coast of the city of Mosul,” 1/15/17
- “Mousalaon activists are urging residents to support the security forces and reveal Daash,” 1/15/17

Rudaw, “Mosul University: the last straw that broke the ISIS back, major weapon factory lost,” 1/15/17

Shafaaq News, “Urgent..Iraq forces announce the full names of liberated areas from the grip of Daesh,” 1/15/17

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Iraq: Humanitarian Bulletin, December 2016,” 1/15/17

Xinhua, “Iraqi forces make swift advance into IS stronghold in Mosul,” 1/15/17