In battle for Mosul, ISIS hunted but still a threat
LONDON - The military assault to liberate the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS) completed its second week with signs of progress as well as push-backs from the militants.
More than 30,000 Iraqi forces and allied Kurdish peshmerga fighters, are taking part in the operation, which is supported by US, French and British air cover.
Despite the objection of Iraq’s central government, the Turkish military is also taking part in the anti-ISIS operation with 500 troops supporting the Kurdish forces that liberated Bashiqa.
Some 60 countries are part of the international anti-ISIS coalition but the estimated 3,000-6,000 militants inside Mosul remain difficult to evict from the city, in which more than 1 million civilians are trapped.
“We estimate [that Iraqi forces have] probably killed about 800- 900 Islamic State fighters,” US Army General Joseph Votel, who heads the US military’s Central Command, told Agence France-Presse.
The Turkish foreign minister said Turkey’s tank and artillery fire from the Bashiqa camp killed 17 ISIS fighters.
Iraqi authorities said about 90 villages and towns around Mosul have been taken back from ISIS since the offensive began October 17th.
Among the liberated areas were the villages of Fazliya and Staff al- Tut in the Tigris River valley. They include the highly symbolic victory of liberating the Christian village Bartella, whose church bells had not rung since its capture by ISIS two years ago.
Coinciding with the offensive against ISIS in Mosul, two Yazidi women activists were announced as the winners of the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov human rights prize. Nadia Murad and Lamia Haji Bashar, who escaped from ISIS in Iraq, dedicated the prize to the victims of the militant group’s campaign of enslavement and rape.
In Baghdad, the US special envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, said the Mosul liberation operation “is very much on plan”.
“All axes of advance have made the progress that we expected at this stage of the operation,” he said. “Some are ahead of schedule.”
ISIS militants have sought to open new battle fronts outside Mosul, including attacks in Kirkuk and Rutba, but the attempts failed.
“Daesh is trying to launch spoiler attacks,” said McGurk, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. He added that the Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air strikes in Kirkuk and Rutba, foiled attempts by the militants.
Complications, however, surfaced as a result of the ISIS assault in the multiethnic city of Kirkuk, which led to the death of dozens of security forces as well as civilians.
UN officials said they were concerned about evidence showing Sunni Arab families in Kirkuk were suffering from collective punishment at the hands of Kurdish security forces, which accused the civilians of being part of ISIS sleeper cells.
Aid workers reported that several hundred Arab families were informed by Kurdish security forces that they must leave voluntarily or would be forced out.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) arbitrarily detained males over the age of 15 who were fleeing Mosul and Hawija for security screening that could last weeks.
“By categorically detaining men and boys 15 and over fleeing ISIS-held territory as possible terrorism suspects, KRG authorities are ignoring basic due process guarantees under Iraqi and international law,” said Lama Fakih, HRW’s deputy Middle East director. “No one should be detained unless there is reason to suspect them personally of criminal activity.”
“We understand the practical need for security screening but detaining all men and boys aged 15 and over simply because of where they are living is discriminatory and these vulnerable people are being denied the protection they should be getting,” Fakih said. “Given what these men and boys have already endured, screening should be carried out quickly in a way that respects individual rights.”
More than 11,700 people had been displaced since the military offensive began, Iraq’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration said.
ISIS has reportedly executed civilians attempting to flee, used others as human shields, deployed crude chemical weapons and torched oil fields, which led to breathing problems for locals.
The World Health Organisation said it expected 200,000 people to require emergency health services once people in Mosul were able to flee.
As the campaign to liberate Mosul continued, Western and Turkish officials have been discussing the possibility of launching a military offensive against Raqqa, ISIS’s stronghold in Syria.