Iraqi gains in Mosul reveal huge scale of ISIS arms industry
London - Iraqi forces around Mosul have exposed the extent of the arms industry of the Islamic State (ISIS), including factories churning out tens of thousands of munitions and an entire street turned into a conveyor belt for car bombs.
In the more than two years since it seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, ISIS has established a sprawling and highly organised system that experts say no other insurgent group matched.
The capability boosted the threat from the group as it battles to cling to territory in Iraq and Syria.
“These people are not stupid. They are very well-organised,” Iraqi Army deminer Hashim Ali told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “If you give them more time, then they always find ways to surprise you.”
AFP visited several sites where ISIS had cannibalised existing infrastructure to create improvised arms factories.
“In terms of scale, planning, centralised command and control and the precision to which they are manufacturing, this is something else,” James Bevan, director of Conflict Armament Research, a UK-based group that investigates arms flows around the world, told AFP.
“I can’t name another armed group that manufactures on such a scale and with such a degree of coordination.”
Bevan and teams from his organisation have been in Iraq cataloguing the extent of ISIS arms production. Their findings show a sophisticated system that pours out tens of thousands of mortars, rockets and explosives on an “unprecedented scale” and under strict quality controls.
The raw materials for shell casings and missiles include scrap metal and spare parts in areas ISIS has captured. The explosives and propellants are made from precursors mostly procured in bulk on the open market in Turkey and diverted through Syria.
The Europe law enforcement agency has warned that ISIS was evolving tactics to attack soft targets in Europe and could use car bombs like those employed to devastating effect in Iraq and Syria.
From France and Belgium to Egypt and Turkey, ISIS and its affiliates have carried out bloody attacks.
“If you look at the Iraq and Syria theatre as a hotbed for the development of more and more sophisticated improvised devices, then it is probably unparalleled,” Bevan said. “If and when Islamic State is pushed out of Mosul and pushed out of large parts of Syria, its fighters will disperse and that means its bomb-makers will disperse, too.”
Iraqi forces began an assault on October 17th to force ISIS from Mosul, its last Iraqi stronghold. Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service controls several eastern neighbourhoods and is closing in on the Tigris river, which divides the city.
Federal police and Interior Ministry forces have mostly been fighting on a southern front, stalled within striking distance of Mosul airport.
The United Nations said 93,500 people have been displaced because of the Mosul operation and the UN children’s agency said about 35,000 children have fled Mosul since mid-October.
UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, called for emergency measures to prevent looting at the historic Iraqi city of Nimrud, which has been wrecked by ISIS. A fact-finding UNESCO mission confirmed “large-scale, systematic” destruction of the site.
In London, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his British counterpart, Michael Fallon, expressed confidence that the Trump administration would continue the United States’ role as leader of the international military coalition against ISIS.
“Among my recommendations [to my successor in the Trump administration] will be the need for the United States to remain actively engaged as leader of this coalition,” Carter said during a news conference in London. “Our coalition can and, I’m confident, will finish this job together.”
Carter said the coalition must remain involved in Iraq even after ISIS is driven from Mosul.
“We’ll need to continue to counter not only foreign fighters trying to escape but also [ISIS’s] attempts to relocate or reinvent itself,” he said. “To do so, both the United States and the coalition must remain engaged militarily. In Iraq, in particular, we must be prepared to provide sustained assistance to the Iraqi security forces to consolidate security over the rest of the country.”
The United States has about 5,000 troops in Iraq. The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies.