Momentum seen in Mosul offensive but also risks for population

Sunday 23/10/2016
It is dif­ficult to assess progress of battle

LONDON - Iraq marked the first week of its offensive to liberate Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS) with optimism and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the military operation was ad­vancing faster than anticipated.

“The forces are pushing towards the city more quickly than we thought,” Abadi told an interna­tional meeting on Mosul in Paris via video-link.

The prime minister hailed the co­ordination between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish peshmerga forces, which “for the first time in Iraq’s history” were “fighting side by side… to liberate territories and pro­tect civilians”.

Most Iraqi media outlets have been putting on a show of unity, set­ting aside the political differences of their backers when reporting on and expressing support for the bat­tle of Mosul.

“The media family in this country should adopt a unified, support­ive stance on the battle for Mosul,” Muayad al-Lami, the head of the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate, said in a statement.

Some observers said it was dif­ficult to assess the progress of the battle from media reports.

“The tone of all the reports com­ing from the front lines has been overwhelmingly positive and jour­nalists are cheerleading fighting forces, talking about how much ter­rain has been gained and how many extremist fighters have been killed,” wrote Mustafa Habib on the web­site Niqash, which focuses on Iraq. “There has not been much concrete visual evidence of this and, certain­ly, there has hardly been any bad news relayed home at all.”

On social media, however, videos were posted purportedly showing Iraqi forces abusing children sus­pected of being ISIS collaborators. The authenticity of the videos could not be verified but similar acts of re­venge have previously been docu­mented by human rights organisa­tions.

Amnesty International called on the Iraqi government to ensure that revenge attacks against civilians suspected of being complicit with ISIS were not repeated in Mosul.

“After escaping the horrors of war and tyranny of ISIS, Sunni Arabs in Iraq are facing brutal revenge at­tacks at the hands of militias and government forces and are being punished for crimes committed by the group,” said Philip Luther, Am­nesty’s Middle East research direc­tor.

“Iraq is currently facing very real and deadly security threats from ISIS but there can be no justifica­tion for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture or arbitrary detention.”

Meanwhile, an Iraqi court is­sued an arrest warrant for Atheel al-Nujaifi, the former governor of Nineveh province, whose capital is Mosul, for spying for Ankara and al­lowing Turkish troops to enter Iraq when he was in office.

Nujaifi commands the Nineveh Guard, formerly known as al-Hashd al-Watani (National Mobilisation Forces), made up predominantly of Sunni fighters trained by Turkey to fight ISIS.

“It’s another example of how the government’s sectarian point-scor­ing takes precedence over the fight against ISIS,” said Tallha Abdul­razaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security In­stitute in England.

In the battle for the liberation of Mosul, however, the major fear re­mains that ISIS will carry out hor­rific atrocities against the more than 1 million people it holds hostage in the city.