By Chelsea Cabral, Staff Writer
Of all the battles against ISIS, the operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul could prove to be the most vital and may even create the path that makes it possible to defeat the terrorist group.
On Monday, October 17, countless Iraqi security forces, Kurdish forces, and an array of Sunni and Shia militia fighters, who are backed by air and ground support from a US-led coalition, initiated what has now been a long-awaited campaign to reclaim the Iraqi city from the Islamic State.
Iraqi-led forces have organized what will most likely be a lengthy and complex offensive to seize Iraq’s second largest city, and one of ISIS’s most vital strongholds.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared in a televised statement, “I am announcing today the beginning of these heroic operations to liberate you from the brutality and terrorism of ISIS…God willing, we will meet soon on the ground of Mosul where we will all celebrate the liberation and your freedom.”
The Islamic State easily captured Mosul back in June of 2014 when the Iraqi military, who had tens of billions of dollars in support from the United States fled the country.
Since then, ISIS declared itself a caliphate there, and in the months that followed they effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria to expand their territory. Now, ISIS occupies portions of the two nations.
Mosul was one of ISIS’s biggest and most strategic wins, since it’s one of the largest cities in Iraq behind the capital of Baghdad. With Mosul under their belt, they easily took control of more than 2.5 million people, subjecting them to the most evil of horrors. Within the last two years alone, there’s been a mass migration and only 1 million people remain today.
“This operation to regain control of Iraq’s second-largest city will likely continue for weeks, possibly longer,” warned Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition.
And caught in the middle of this strife are thousands of civilians whose path out of the city is shadowed by the risk of snipers, landmines, hunger and thirst.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, most of those still in Mosul could flee in the face of the fighting which would then create the worst-case-scenario yet, generating “one of the largest man-made displacement crises in recent times.”
“Families are at extreme risk of being caught in crossfire or targeted by snipers. Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men may be under siege or held as human shields. Thousands may be forcibly expelled or trapped between the fighting lines,” says UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien.
This offensive to reclaim Mosul will not be easy, as ISIS has already taken steps in preparation for the onslaught like having dug enormous tunnels underneath the city and a trench around it, which they’ve filled with oil ready to torch when forces come near.
So far, the interior minister of the Kurdish regional government, Karim Sinjari, who is acting defense minister in the area, said that allied forces have already reclaimed 30 villages from ISIS.
Sinjari believes there are between 4,000 and 8,000 ISIS fighters in the city ready for war, but that their numbers have shrunken because those who are choosing not to fight have already been executed.
As it is, ISIS has slowly lost hold of very important territory. Just recently, it lost its symbolic stronghold of Fallujah in June, the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi months earlier, and last week, Syrian rebels reclaimed the town of Dabiq, which held special ideological worth for the group.
If Mosul goes back to the hands of the Iraqi forces, only Raqa in Syria would remain as the last major city stronghold in either country that is under ISIS’s control.
Taking back the Iraqi city of Mosul is just one more chapter on an extensive and risky road to eliminating ISIS as an untiring threat to the Middle East for good.
With some persistence and optimism, it could get accomplished.