Iraq says it will recapture Mosul in three months
London - Iraq’s military operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS) could be complete in three months or less, says the top commander of Iraqi special forces.
“It’s possible” that Mosul would be liberated in that time frame, said Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati, who is also commander of Iraq’s Joint Military Operation, in an interview with the Associated Press.
He warned it was difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation would take because it is not a conventional fight. “There are many variables,” he said, describing the combat as “guerrilla warfare”.
Masrour Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Security Council, said on Twitter that ISIS was “on the verge of collapse”. His region’s peshmerga forces are not fighting inside the city.
Iraqi forces announced that three more neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul had been retaken from ISIS fighters. Brigadier-General Haider Fadhil of Iraq’s special forces estimated that about 85% of eastern Mosul was under Iraqi control.
The western side of Mosul, which is home to the old city and some of ISIS’s strongholds, was always tipped as likely to offer the most resistance.
The offensive began October 17th and Iraqi leaders originally pledged the city would be retaken before 2017. However, as the fight enters its fourth month, only about one-third of the city is under government control.
Iraqi forces have slowly advanced across Mosul’s eastern neighbourhoods. Fierce ISIS counterattacks have killed or injured hundreds of Iraqi troops and inflicted considerable damage to their military equipment.
Repeatedly, after what appeared to be swift progress on the ground, Iraqi forces have been pushed back by ISIS counterattacks.
Shaghati said counterattacks, specifically car bombings, have slowed. He estimated his forces were seeing less than half the number of ISIS car bomb attacks on the front than they were faced with when the operation began.
His views were shared by Major- General Maan al-Saadi of the Counter-Terrorism Service, which has done much of the fighting in east Mosul.
“At the beginning, they launched many car bombs, now much fewer. There are one, two or three a day, never more than ten,” he said. “In the first phase, they used more than 50 a day,” Saadi told Agence France-Presse.
Many of those attacks were conducted by suicide bombers who rammed explosives-laden vehicles into federal forces.
The offensive to drive ISIS out of Mosul involves a 100,000-strong force of Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Shia militias.
A fresh push that started December 29th has resulted in Iraqi forces, with increased backing from the US-led coalition, making significant gains in the eastern side of the city.
“We see fewer and fewer VBIED than we had previously in Mosul,” Pentagon spokesman US Navy Captain Jeff Davis said, using the acronym for vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.
The United Nations had warned that the military campaign could displace up to 1.5 million people.
Spokesman Jens Laerke of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said approximately 135,500 people have left Mosul since the operation began in October. Some 4,000 people fled on January 2nd, one of the largest single-day outflows during the campaign.
OCHA said it and its partners have no access to civilians in areas of western Mosul controlled by ISIS and in a note pointed to “increasing humanitarian concerns for the wellbeing of civilians in these areas”.
In Baghdad bombings in commercial areas of the capital killed 11 people and wounded 40 on January 11th.
On the diplomatic front, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said recently that an agreement had been reached with Turkey regarding withdrawal of its troops from Bashiqa camp, near Mosul.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who met with Abadi while visiting Baghdad, noted significant progress in the fight against ISIS and said the issue of Bashiqa would be solved “somehow in a friendly way”.
Separately, Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik said Turkish troops in Iraq had carried out a mission during which more than 700 ISIS militants were killed.
“Turkey respects Iraq’s territorial integrity and unity and the presence of our troops in Bashiqa is not a choice but a necessity,” Isik said in Kirikkale, a city east of the Turkish capital, Ankara.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said Turkey reserves the right to take measures inside Iraq to defend itself against terror threats but would no longer need to do so once such threats are removed.
“The Bashiqa camp is there because of terror that originates in Iraq and it is our right to take measures against this. If the threat is removed, there will be no need to,” Canikli said in an interview with A Haber television.
Iraq has long demanded that Turkish forces withdraw from Bashiqa camp and Abadi said relations with Turkey could “not move forward one step” without a withdrawal of Turkish forces from the camp in northern Iraq, state television reported.