Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 126, Feb 20, 2017


(Institute for the Study of War)
The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued their advance on the second day of the new campaign for Mosul. Six villages were freed. That included Abu Saif, which is the high ground overlooking part of south Mosul. Another was Sahaji, which cut the road from Mosul to Tal Afar. The Federal Police and Rapid Response Division also began attacking the Ghazlani army base, which is next to the Mosul airport. The government’s media cell announced that this marked the end of the first stage of operations. Next will be taking the airport and then moving into the city itself.

The ISF are going to open another front eventually with a crossing of the Tigris River led by the Golden Division. They are staging in the Palestine and Yarimjah neighborhoods in the southern tip of the eastern half of the city. They will likely connect with the police forces coming from the south. Much of the talk before the campaign re-started was of this river crossing across the Tigris. That led to the Islamic State fortifying riverbank. That now appears to have been a feint to distract the militants from where the real attack would come from, which is in the south.

The official line from the Iraqi political and military leadership is that the Islamic State is already defeated, and west Mosul will be easier than the east. New Sabah, the government’s paper, for instance, had another story of IS fighters fleeing the city. Now that the battle has actually begun, ground commanders are beginning to dissent. They told both Reuters and CNN that they expect the coming fight for the city to be difficult. The main problem is the narrow streets and packed buildings. The roads are too small for tanks and armored fighting vehicles to navigate. The closeness of the buildings will also make it more difficult to call in artillery or air strikes for fear of collateral damage. The Islamic State has also laid down its usual IED fields and booby traps, and is building berms to block off streets to try to limit the Iraqi forces’ movement through the city. It will also deploy suicide and car bombs just as it did in the east. The terrain will make it a more difficult fight, but in the end IS’s defenses will be broken and the city will eventually be taken.

U.S. and British Special Forces are right at the front with the ISF. British Special Air Service, American Green Berets and the Delta Force were all reported to be working with the Iraqis. The U.S. commander in Iraq General Stephen Townsend said that they were close to the battle lines. This is part of the Trump administration’s new policy to loosen the rules of engagement. News reports about these advisers led Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s office to admit their presence but deny that they were taking part in any of the fighting. The premier is pro-Western, but his main opponents are within his own Dawa Party and part of the Hashd who are aligned with Iran. They are constantly complaining about the U.S. led Coalition’s presence, which was why Abadi’s office had to issue such a statement.

Aid groups are still afraid of a pending humanitarian crisis from the new battle. More camps and tents are being built as a result. These organizations are trying to prepare for three possible scenarios from the attack on west Mosul. One is a mass displacement of up to 400,000 people. Another is a long siege that could trap the civilians inside the city, which is already suffering massive shortages of food, fuel, electricity and water. The third is people leaving in an orderly fashion. What’s more likely is that most of the population stays inside the city just as they did in the east with a few thousand fleeing. The United Nations has consistently overestimated the displacement that would occur from this campaign. Originally it warned of up to one million people leaving their homes. Only around 200,000 left all of Ninewa, and now more people are returning.

The Daily Beast had an article on the difficulty of rebuilding the police force in Mosul. Before 2014 when the city fell there were 28,000 officers in the city. There were also army units to help with security. Today there are only 6,000 police. The U.S. Coalition is trying to help with the situation by training an entirely new police force. That is a long process however. In the meantime the city is being secured by a hodgepodge of army, police, Federal Police, Hashd, and local neighborhood and tribal forces. While the population is trying to help them by providing information on IS suspects the different forces do not cooperate, and actively compete with each other leading to gaps in security, which the insurgents are sure to exploit. If the militants continue with their bombings and escalate to assassinations and rebuilding their criminal activities once business returns less people will likely be willing to inform on them. That could devolve into the pre-2014 situation when IS was like a mafia controlling large swaths of the city.

As more time passes disputes over the future of Ninewa become more public. A group of pro-Kurdish sheikhs held a press conference calling for Kurdish President Massoud Barzani to free the rest of the province rather than have the Hashd do it. At the same time, a Hashd commander said that ex-Governor Atheel Nujafi’s Ninewa Guards should not be given control of any liberated areas. There are a number of Arab tribes in the governorate that Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has attempted to co-opt over the years to support its goals of annexing the disputed areas. Pro-Iranian Hashd are also opposed to the Nujafi’s returning to power because they are aligned with the KDP. These arguments are likely to escalate.

SOURCES

Al Aalem, “The first stage completed in Ninewa We Are Coming and Baghdad denies the involvement of foreign troops,” 2/20/17

AIN, “Summary of today’s operation to free West Mosul,” 2/20/17

Atassi, Basma, Beech, Samantha, and Yan, Holly, “Battle for Mosul: Iraqi forces take key village near airport from ISIS,” CNN, 2/20/17

Bas News, “Mosul: Iraqi Troops Storm Biggest Military Camp in North,” 2/20/17

BBC, “Mosul offensive: Iraqi army battles for outskirts of IS city,” 2/20/17

Griffin, Jennifer, “US troops in Iraq operating closer to front lines,” Fox News, 2/20/17

Gysin, Patrick, “British Troops Fresh Offensive,” The Sun, 2/20/17

Hemid, Leyla, “Nineveh Plains Residents Seek Barzani’s Support against Shi’ite Militias,” Bas News, 2/20/17

Hennigan, W.J. and Bulos, Nabih, “U.S. advisors are now fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul,” Los Angeles Times, 2/20/17

Iraq Oil Report, “Inside Mosul: Feb. 20, 2017,” 2/21/17

Kakawais, Halo, “Iraqi forces will face ISIS suicide bombers, IEDs as they target Mosul airport,” Rudaw, 2/20/17

Kalin, Stephen and Chmaytelli, Maher, “Iraqi forces battle their way toward Mosul airport,” Reuters, 2/20/17

Kullab, Samya, “Aid groups brace for surge of displaced Mosul residents,” Al Jazeera, 2/20/17

Al Masalah, “Asadi: There is no intention of handing over liberated areas to Najafi’s forces,” 2/20/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, "7 civilians dead, wounded as Islamic State drones fall down in western Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/20/17
- “Officer: Iraqi troops invade IS-occupied military base west of Mosul,” Iraqi News, 2/20/17
- “PMUs kill 23 militants in western Mosul, police advance toward strategic targets,” Iraqi News, 2/20/17
- “PMUs take over last village on Mosul-Tal Afar route, police kill 9 militants,” Iraqi News, 2/20/17

Neuhof, Florian, “The Terrifying ISIS Sleeper Cells of Mosul,” Daily Beast, 2/19/17

New Sabah, “Dozens of Daesh members fled to Syria,” 2/20/17

Reuters, “Iraqi forces reach vicinity of Mosul airport,” 2/20/17
- “Trump’s defense chief says in Iraq: We’re not here for your oil,” 2/20/17

Rudaw, “Iraqi forces take key village south of Mosul airport,” 2/20/17
- “LIVE UPDATES: Abadi announces start of military campaign for west Mosul,” 2/19/17

Al Sumaria, "Ninewa We Are Coming declares Al Zakh village freed west of Mosul," 2/20/17
- “Popular crowd announced free village West of Mosul and killed eight Daesh members,” 2/20/17


Monday, February 20, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 125, Feb 19, 2017


On the morning of February 19 Prime Minister Haider Abadi went on state television to announce the start of the operation to take west Mosul. The day before the Iraqi air force dropped flyers over the city telling people their liberation as coming. The Federal Police also went on the offensive to seize four villages to secure their jump off spots for the new campaign. There was just under a month gap between freeing east Mosul and attacking the west. That time was necessary to rearm and reposition forces.

The first stage of the new operation has three main goals. One is for the Federal Police to take Abu Saif, which is the high ground overlooking south Mosul. The Rapid Response Division is heading for the Ghazlani military base, which is next to the Mosul airport in the southern section of the city. Their ultimate goal is to seize the airport itself. The Islamic State has tried to destroy the facilities there so they cannot be used. Once it is secured army engineers, likely with U.S. coalition support, are going to move in and try to make repairs as quickly as possible to the runways to allow them to be used to fly in supplies for the battle. All together these would give the ISF a vantage point over the entire southern section of the city, as well as staging areas for moving forward. A third thrust is being made by the army’s 9th Division and the Hashd’s Al-Abbas Division towards the southwestern section of Mosul. At a later time, the Golden Division and other units are expected to cross the Tigris River using pontoon bridges provided by the Americans. Some of those have been sent to the Palestine neighborhood in southern Mosul. That would make the militants fight on two fronts the south and the east, stretching their manpower and resources.

The Iraqi forces (ISF) made some quick gains on the first day. The attack began with a barrage on IS positions. The Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division set off and captured Lazaaqah and the villages around it. The town is important because it contains the power station that provides electricity for all of west Mosul. Unfortunately the insurgents blew up power towers and transmission lines as they retreated. The 9th Division moved towards Ghazlani, and a third thrust of army forces and the Hashd’s Al-Abbas Division, which is loyal to Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, headed for Abu Saif. Iraqi attack helicopters were overhead providing support. By nightfall the police forces had freed 8 villages, the 9th Division 7, and the Hashd and army 4 more. The ISF also claimed to have destroyed 19 car bombs in the process.

The U.S. led Coalition has stepped up its presence as well. U.S. Special Forces were part of the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division column. There has also been more airstrikes. They have gone from 12-20 per day up to 30-50. A U.S. pilot told the press that at any one time there were up to 50 aircraft flying over the battlefield. Most of those are drones that are looking for targets. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Washington was behind the new effort, as can be seen by the increased support the Coalition is providing.

The inclusion of the Al Abbas Division is a change in plans for the Mosul campaign. At the start, Premier Abadi said that the Hashd would not enter the city to try to allay the public fear of abuses. He went back on that promise after east Mosul was freed. There were not enough forces to hold that half of the city as well as move on the west so a Shabak Hashd unit was moved in. Now the Abbas Division is playing a major combat role as well, again because more forces were needed. The Ninewa council initially objected to their role, but changed their view. Vice President Osama Nujafi who is from the province still had reservations, saying the Hashd should stay to the west of the city in the Tal Afar district. Choosing the Al Abbas Division was probably easy for Baghdad. It follows Ayatollah Sistani, not Iran, has worked closely with the Iraqi army and police before, and is likely to be integrated into the ISF sometime in the future. That made them more acceptable to the Ninewa government. Nujafi on the other hand does not want outside forces in Mosul because it could threaten his family’s plans to re-establish their position there.

Iraqi propaganda continued to put out stories about the poor condition of the Islamic State in west Mosul. There was another report that the group was evacuating their families not only out of southern Mosul, but out of the city overall towards Syria. Similar news has been spread since the start of the Mosul campaign in October. Most of the IS leadership and their relatives have probably been out of the city for months now. Low-level members may not have had the ability to leave until now because of their superiors.

The insurgents were also facing continued resistance. IS accused people in west Mosul of being traitors for not answering their call to arms. The group has been forcibly drafting fighting aged men into its forces, but apparently few of them are reporting for duty. Three IS facilities were set on fire, and some of its patrols were also attacked. Iraqi flags were raised over three buildings in the Old City section of Mosul. IS conducted raids to try to find the culprits. For over a year now small groups of resistance fighters have been carrying out hit and run attacks upon the Islamic State in Mosul. These never posed a threat to the organization, but they showed that people were willing to confront the group, and were not all supporters of the Islamists as some people claimed.

Aid groups continued to warn of a humanitarian crisis emerging out of the new battle. The United Nations said that its resources were stretched trying to handle all the people needing assistance made worse by the fact that it has never gotten the funding that it has asked for. The U.N. is also afraid of a mass exodus out of west Mosul during the fighting. Save the Children’s Iraq director didn’t think that would happen for now, as people are afraid to leave because of threats from the insurgents. More importantly, many people stayed within east Mosul when the government assaulted it rather then leaving for camps. The same trend is likely to repeat itself now.

There were more Islamic State attacks on east Mosul. A suicide bomber hit the restaurant in the Zuhur neighborhood that was attacked in the same fashion on February 10. This time 2 people were killed and 9 were wounded. Another suicide bomber set off his device at a checkpoint to a market in Nabi Younis leaving 5 dead and 2 injured. Last, a drone left four wounded in Wahda. IS has done its best to make east Mosul feel like a besieged city since it was liberated in the middle of January. There are daily mortar, rocket and drone strikes, and IS sleeper cells and infiltrators have been able to set off suicide and car bombs as well. There were likely more incidents that were not reported.

The Guardian reported on videos released on social media of ISF and Hashd units abusing IS members. One video showed Federal Police beating four men, and then executing three of them. In two others prisoners were abused and then told to imitate animals. In another a man is being held down on the floor and viewers were asked what to do with him. Most called for his death. The United Nations demanded that the government investigate these videos. Baghdad said it would, but denigrated them calling them a “fabrication.” The Iraqi forces have a long history of abuse and torture of not only Islamic State fighters, but also common criminals dating back to the Baath days and before. They were never ended after 2003. The difference now is that the Iraqi forces brag about their misdeeds by posting them on social media. At the same time, the government cannot be expected to do anything about it because it would hurt their image, and they believe the morale of the country. In turn it exerts benign neglect whenever it comes up. Hence an investigation was announced, but nothing will come of it. In fact, the authorities often cover up any crimes that take place.

Reuters reported on the divisions within Ninewa that the Islamic State has brought about. In the town of Rfaila 45 kilometers/30 miles south of Mosul residents were going after not only IS sympathizers but their remains. People were throwing grenades at the homes of people they accused of helping the militants to try to force them to leave. At the same time, they were blowing up homes of IS members and even digging up the graves of some to desecrate their remains. Many provinces are choosing collective punishment to deal with these people after areas are freed by either not allowing them in, or isolating them in camps. With no effort at reconciliation combined with Iraq’s culture of revenge and maintaining family honor when people are killed these hatreds will continue for years.

Finally, on a positive note, the Oil Ministry announced that one more oil fire in Qayara was extinguished. IS set the oil field on fire there when it was forced to retreat. There are still four wells ablaze. These have created an environmental disaster in the area spewing toxic fumes and darkening the sky for months now. 

SOURCES

Adel, Loaa, “Iraqi forces liberate Ibrahimiya and Zakrotiyah villages in western Mosul,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- “IS members immediately evacuate their families from western Mosul,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- “Islamic State defense lines in Mosul Airport collapse amid heavy fire,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17

Agence France Presse, “Optimism on the front line over Mosul assault,” 2/20/17

Bas News, “Iraqi Troops Making Gains Against IS in Mosul,” 2/19/17

BBC, “Mosul assault: Iraqi troops make headway against IS,” 2/19/17

Bulos, Nabih and Hennigan, W.J., “Offensive to rout Islamic State out of west Mosul is underway, as U.S. steps up airstrikes,” Los Angeles Times, 2/19/17

Buratha News, “Before fleeing Daesh terrorists blew up electricity towers and ambulance bomb south of Mosul city,” 2/19/17
- “Extinguishing a new oil well in Qayyarah and four still burning,” 2/19/17

Callimachi, Rukmini and Hassan, Falih, “Iraq Starts Offensive to Retake Western Mosul From ISIS,” New York Times, 2/19/17

Coles, Isabel, “Blowing up houses, digging up graves: Iraqis purge Islamic State,” Reuters, 2/19/17

Graham-Harrison, Emma and Hawramy, Fazel, “Iraqi PM announces west Mosul attack as images of security forces’ brutality emerge,” Guardian, 2/19/17

Iraq News Network, “Najafi has reservations on the participation of the popular crowd in the liberation of West Mosul,” 2/19/17

Iraq Oil Report, “Inside Mosul: Feb. 18, 2017, 2/20/17

Al Jazeera, “Iraqi government launches offensive on west Mosul,” 2/19/17

Al Mada, “Mosul airport and Camp Ghazlani first goals of the liberation of the right bank of Mosul,” 2/19/17

Al Masalah, “Nineveh government backs down from its position on the participation of the popular crowd in freeing West Mosul,” 2/19/17
- “Ninewa We Are Coming explains the position of the battle for the right coast of Mosul,” 2/19/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, “Federal police retake more western Mosul areas from Islamic State,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- “Iraqi police recaptures 2 western Mosul villages from IS as operations continue,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- “IS accuses western Mosul people of treason as call to arms defied,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- “IS rattled as Iraqi flags mysteriously raised at western Mosul, close old city,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- “PMUs begin west Mosul invasion, bring down IS defenses,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- “UPDATED: Iraqi army, police retake 2 western Mosul villages, power station,” Iraqi News, 2/19/17
- "UPDATED: IS suicide bombers kill one militiaman, wound 11 in eastern Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/19/17

NPR, “Iraq Opens Offensive On Western Mosul In New Push To Reclaim ISIS Stronghold,” 2/19/17

Reuters, "Suicide bombings kill five in east Mosul, security sources say," 2/19/17

Rudaw, “LIVE UPDATES: Abadi announces start of military campaign for west Mosul,” 2/19/17

Salim, Mustafa, Fahim, Kareem and Lamothe, Dan, “Iraq resumes offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State, prime minister says,” Washington Post, 2/19/17

Shafaaq News, "Civilians injured by a new Daesh drone strike in Mosul," 2/19/17
- "Wounding four from the crowd in second suicide bombing in Mosul," 2/19/17

Al Sumaria, “The escape of dozens of Daesh members from Mosul’s right bank to Syria,” 2/19/17

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Hundreds of Thousands of Civilians Require Assistance and Support in Eastern Mosul,” 2/19/17

Xinhua, "At least 3 killed in suicide bomb attacks in Iraq's Mosul," 2/19/17
- “Iraq announces offensive to retake western Mosul from IS militants,” 2/19/17


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 124, Feb 18, 2017


UPDATE: Prime Minister Abadi at around 7:30 am on February 19 announced that the assault on west Mosul has begun.

The Iraqi press reported three attacks on east Mosul. A drone strike and rockets on two neighborhoods killed a total of 7 people and wounded 19. A suicide bomber was also killed. The media has been covering these incidents less and less in recent days. That could because of the government, which has looked down on negative reporting on the war and tried to limit it.

The Islamic State launched another major assault upon the Hashd lines in the Tal Afar district. The Hashd have claimed these are some of the largest attacks they have seen. The Iraqi forces (ISF) said that the insurgents were trying to breakthrough to Syria. They may also be trying to get to Baaj, which is to the west of Tal Afar where IS leadership has been said to be staying at.

Securing east Mosul has also been more difficult than expected. While nothing can be done about the constant shelling and drone strikes until east Mosul is taken, there are infiltrations and IS sleeper cells operating in the city as well. One major problem has been the fact that a variety of security forces in east Mosul. There are army units, Federal Police, local police, Hashd groups and local fighters inside, and the Ninewa Guards on the outskirts. These are all competing for influence. A commander from the Ninewa Guards for instance wanted to return to Mosul after the Joint Operations Command expelled it under political pressure from opponents of its leader former Ninewa Govenror Atheel Nujafi. Another issue is that the city will eventually be turned over to the police, but there are not enough of them. The U.S. led Coalition is trying to help with that matter having just trained around 5,000 ISF that will be sent to the city. This will remain an issue for the foreseeable future as there are only a fraction of the police necessary to hold Mosul leaving the government to rely upon this hodgepodge of forces until the police are built up.

It appears that the ISF are ramping up to take west Mosul. A general from the Golden Division stated that the operation would start this week. The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets over the city once more telling the population they would be freed soon. The Joint Operations Command announced that the Federal Police attacked four villages near the Mosul airport south of the city and were shelling west Mosul as well. They along with the Rapid Reaction forces have been building up a town called Areyj for their eventual push on the city. American and Canadian Special Forces were supporting them. The Golden Division was firing mortars onto areas where pontoon bridges are expected to be placed to cross the Tigris River into east Mosul. A spokesman for the Ninewa Operations Command told the Los Angeles Times that it expected 400 die hard IS members to go down fighting, while the rest would eventually run. A general from the Rapid Reaction forces also noted that there were many IS supporters in the city as well, especially in the Old City that might prove difficult. Finally, the militants were moving civilians into certain areas to use them as human shields. There has been nearly a month’s pause since west Mosul was taken. That was to be expected as the Iraqi units had to be re-supplied, refitted, replacements and new units sent in, and repositioned. Still, the move to take east Mosul has to be just around the corner.

The Associated Press reported that the Iraqi forces are getting help to prepare for the coming battle from informants working behind enemy lines. Intelligence officers told the agency that it has up to 300 people inside Mosul providing information on the insurgents. They have been providing the locations of IS fighting positions and troop movement. Some of this has proven false, but the intelligence agencies have tried to cross check when possible.

There was more on the declining situation within west Mosul. First, the United Nations continued to worry that a mass displacement may happen when the other side of the city is attacked. The fact that most people stayed in east Mosul when it was assaulted seems to not have changed the opinion of the U.N., who originally warned that up to 1 million people may feel the fighting. Second, the U.N. is still warning about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the west side. There are massive food, fuel, electricity and water shortages. 3 out of 5 people are using untreated water for example out of wells. With the city cut off from its main supply lines to Syria this will only get worse. The New York Times called people in west Mosul. They told of IS giving out food as rewards for those that would turn in others for any number of violations. The militants themselves were hoarding supplies. Civilians cannot freely move about as well due to IS restrictions. Another sign of how bad things have gotten the Anadolu Agency reported that four children starved to death. Finally, the Islamic State raided two neighborhoods looking for people using cell phones, computers or satellite TVs. The only way things will get better is for west Mosul to be liberated. Then aid agencies and the government will need to step in and immediately provide relief. The problem is those two are hardly present in west Mosul almost a month after it was freed.

Last, Al Monitor interviewed Atheel Nujafi. He said that he expected there to be competition between moderate and extremist parties after Ninewa was completely freed. The extremists would be those that played upon fears of Shiites. He went on to promote his Ninewa Guards as the only security forces made out of locals and called for them to return to Mosul as a result. He dismissed the arrest warrant against him as political pressure from opponents who wanted him out. Finally he attacked the Ninewa governor and provincial council as being no representative and wanted a new administration. Most of these are themes that Nujafi has talked about before. He has promoted his Ninewa Guards to regain his status in the province. He was hoping that they would allow him to return to power, hence his criticism of the standing provincial government, but that’s yet to be seen as they and others have struck back at him. Deciding Ninewa’s politics will be another big struggle in the future.

SOURCES

Al Aalem, “Sources attribute the delay in operations against the right bank due to US-Iranian dispute..Abadi sought to persuade Tehran and Washington to both participate,” 2/18/17

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim and George, Susannah, “Iraqis risk all to spy on Islamic State militants in Mosul,” Associated Press, 2/18/17

Adel, Loaa, "Islamic State drone kills, wounds 13 civilians near Mosul," Iraqi News, 2/18/17
- "Islamic State shelling on east of Mosul leaves 13 casualties," Iraqi News, 2/18/17

AIN, “Urgent commander in Counter-Terrorism Forces: freeing West Mosul will start this week,” 2/18/17

Bas News, “Thousands More Iraqi Troops Join Mosul Assault after Training,” 2/18/17

Bulos, Nabih, “Violent assault on Islamic State entrenchments in west Mosul set to begin,” Los Angeles Times, 2/18/17

Capelouto, Susanna and Alkhshali, Hamdi, “Leaflets dropped over western Mosul to warn of Iraqi military offensive,” CNN, 3/28/17

Fordham, Alice, “Life Inches Back To Normal In East Mosul, But Worries Remain,” NPR, 2/18/17

New Sabah, “Federal Police targeted four villages near Mosul airport in preparation for storming the right bank,” 2/18/17

Reuters, “Battle in west Mosul could see siege, mass displacement: U.N.,” 2/18/17
- “Iraqi planes drop leaflets on west Mosul to say offensive is imminent,” 2/18/17

Saadoun, Mustafa, “Will Mosul witness a political battle post-IS?” Al Monitor, 2/17/17

Shafaaq News, “Dozens of Daesh militants raided two areas West Mosul,” 2/18/17

Shaker, Serhad, “Iraq: 4 children starve to death in western Mosul,” Anadolu Agency, 2/18/17

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Many families in western Mosul are already in trouble,” 2/18/17

Zucchino, David, “Iraqi Civilians Pay Heavy Price as Attack on ISIS in Mosul Nears,” New York Times, 2/18/17


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 123, Feb 17, 2017


The Islamic State made another attack upon the Hashd in western Ninewa. This time they assaulted the area around Ain Hassan.

The press is reporting less on the insurgents’ attacks inside Mosul. After the huge increase in such incidents over the last month the drop in coverage may be due to government pressure on the media. Baghdad does not like negative news about the war and security and has gone after sources as a result. Previously they ended embedded reporters in the Mosul battle, and said they would not allow journalists near the frontlines when west Mosul is attacked.

There were several stories about the impending fight for the other half of Mosul. The government’s narrative has been that the Islamic State is defeated. A source told New Sabah that there was a major breakdown within the group. Its war minister was killed and it was executing people as it became more paranoid about its hold on the city. Another source said that the insurgents were suffering from shortages of fighters and weapons. Reuters on the other hand noted the preparations IS was making and how difficult the coming campaign would be. IS is digging tunnels underneath the city, and cutting holes in walls between buildings to facilitate their fighters moving place from to place without being seen by the Iraqi forces. They have also cut sniper holes in buildings along the Tigris River. Coalition aircraft and artillery are attempting to take out their car bomb and IED shops, which will be a crucial part of the group’s defenses. An army colonel from the 9th Division told Reuters that he believed west Mosul would be more difficult than the east. There are narrow streets that will limit the use of tanks and armored vehicles for example. The ISF plans on attacking on multiple fronts to try to stretch out the Islamic State’s fighters. The Federal Police for example are aiming to take the Mosul airport in the south while the Golden Division will attack across the Tigris. At first the latter was believed to be a frontal assault on west Mosul, but the crossing may actually come further south. A spokesman for the U.S. Coalition Colonel John Dorrian repeated the belief that west Mosul will be a very hard fight. At the same time IS is cut off from its other forces in Iraq and Syria and can’t bring in new fighters. In the end west Mosul will probably be much like east Mosul and Fallujah and Ramadi and Tikrit before it. The militants will put up a tough defense, but once their frontlines are penetrated they will collapse.

A Hashd commander went after the U.S., Turkey and Vice President Osama Nujafi for the delay in taking all of Mosul. He blamed American and Turkish interference for not liberating the entire city. He also said that VP Nujafi does not represent the people of Mosul, and that Turkish forces were inside the city. These have been common themes amongst pro-Iranian factions of the Hashd. They have rejected the help the U.S. led Coalition has offered Iraq because they are aligned with Tehran. They also believe that Turkey is interfering with Iraqi politics and violating its sovereignty with its bases in northern Iraq. Finally, Nujafi is aligned with Turkey making him a target as well.

There were more stories about life in east Mosul. The Los Angeles Times went to several neighborhoods in the city. In one there were no aid agencies because it was considered too dangerous due to IS attacks. In another people were digging wells to try to find water. On the eastern outskirts of Mosul things appeared to be better. There food was being trucked in from Irbil to be sold in markets. Agence France Presse (AFP) talked with a family that left Mosul for a displaced camp. That was because a drone killed the father. The wife was also worried about IS sleeper cells carrying out attacks. A manager at a displaced camp told AFP that when east Mosul was initially freed families began leaving immediately, but now around 40 came back because of the increasing violence. A community activist also complained about some Iraqi forces being unprofessional. Finally, a Ninewa councilman complained that IS was spreading rumors amongst the populace to scare them. He said that militants were telling people that there were suicide bombers in their midst. These are more than rumors however as there has been a recent wave of suicide and car bombings. Living in east Mosul is difficult, and becoming more so. There are hundreds of people moving in and out of the city. People are trying to put their lives together but there are no real services, and the government and aid agencies only have a limited presence. There has been a dramatic increase in IS operations as well causing more and more casualties. Things will remain complicated for the foreseeable future.

Reuters went to an orphanage that used to be run by the Islamic State in the Zuhur district of east Mosul. Most of the children were Shiites and Yazidis, but they were taught to hate their communities. The textbooks they used were full of military imagery. Kids were brought in from around Ninewa, and even Syria to learn there. When the boys got older they were sent to Tal Afar for military training. These children that lived under IS rule for two years will never get this time back. Not only did they miss regular school, but also the indoctrination they received may negatively affect their lives for years to come. That’s made worse by the fact that they were all orphans, which means they don’t have parents and family to help tell them deal with what they went through.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, "Official: IS kills 8 Iraqi militia near Tikrit," Associated Press, 2/17/17

Bulos, Nabih, “In the half of Mosul freed from Islamic State, life returns to not-quite normal,” Los Angeles Times, 2/16/17

Buratha News, “A leader in the popular crowd: foreign agendas behind the unresolved battle for Mosul,” 2/17/17

Kalin, Stephen, “In Mosul orphanage, Islamic State groomed child soldiers,” Reuters, 2/17/17

Mostafa, Mohamed, “Official: Islamic State eastern Mosul cells spread panic through rumors,” Iraqi News, 2/17/17

New Sabah, “Daesh live in a state of hysteria after being besieged by the joint forces in the right bank of Mosul,” 2/17/17

Rasheed, Ahmed, “Islamic State readies for close combat in alleyways of west Mosul,” Reuters, 2/17/17

Rifai, Marisol, “In ‘liberated Mosul, residents say danger remains,” Agence France Presse, 2/17/17

Rudaw, “Coalition spokesman: ISIS threats to west Mosul civilians to end in ‘coming weeks,’” 2/17/17

Russia Today, “Grenade-dropping jihadist death drones are ‘insidious’ threat in Iraq – general,” 2/17/17


Friday, February 17, 2017

Violence In Iraq Feb 8-14, 2017


There was an increase in violence in Iraq during the second week of February because of Islamic State attacks in Mosul. There were a total of 163 incidents recorded, the most since the second week of January. Ninewa had the most with 95, Baghdad had 30, Basra 10, Diyala 9, Anbar 8, Salahaddin 6, and Kirkuk 5.

Those incidents led to 417 dead and 381 wounded, the highest figures since the third week of January when the Iraqi forces finished the liberation of east Mosul. A total of 16 Hashd, 25 members of the Iraqi forces (ISF), and 376 civilians lost their lives, and another 20 Hashd, 44 ISF, and 317 civilians were injured.

Ninewa was the deadliest province with 315 killed and 240 wounded. Baghdad was next with 45 dead and 95 wounded. After that there were 26 deaths in Kirkuk, 18 in Diyala, 7 in Anbar, 4 in Salahaddin, and 2 in Basra.

Anbar had the regular series of low level attacks punctuated with a large one. The latter took the form of a suicide car bomb on a checkpoint in Amiriya Fallujah. The rest were rockets, 1, shootings, 2, and IEDs, 4, that left a total of 7 dead and 24 wounded. Most of those came in the area between Fallujah and Ramadi showing that the Islamic State has returned to that area after the government freed it.

Since the Mosul battle began in October the number of attacks in the capital province has gone down. From February 8-14 there were 30 incidents in Baghdad that led to 45 dead and 95 injured. What have gone up is car bombs, with 3 during the week. Since the Mosul campaign started IS has dramatically increased the number of vehicle bombs aimed at Baghdad. The main form of violence however was the 18 IEDs. As usual the south with 11 incidents was the most violent in the governorate. There were also 7 in the west, 6 in the north, 3 in the east, 2 in the center, and one in an unknown location. IS is operating in the city’s suburbs and sending in bombers from Anbar and Diyala. The security forces are constantly doing sweeps through these “belt” areas as they are called, but to limited effect. The governor of Baghdad talked about a new high tech security system for the city, but that has been clouded in controversy and accusations of massive fraud and corruption.

Basra has seen a recent increase in attacks. There were three shootings and 18 IEDs during the week almost all of which occurred in Basra city. First 12 music shops were bombed, then the secretary general of Hezbollah Iraq was assassinated, followed by the bombing of a Dawa official and then the Election Commission offices were shot at. The growing violence led some Iranian backed Hashd groups to call for them to take over security in the province, which got some push back from the head of the Basra council. While there is plenty of speculation on why music stores were bombed, the other incidents were obviously politically motivated.

Diyala is another area where the insurgents have re-grouped. The number of incidents there has gone up in the last month, but they are still at a low level. During the week there were four shootings and 4 IEDs leading to 18 deaths and 12 injured. There are several suspected militant bases in places like the Hamrin Mountains, Abu Saida, around Baladrooz, and others. IS however, mostly uses Diyala to feed fighters and explosives into Baghdad although a few times a month there are mass casualty bombings in the province itself.

Most of the violence in Kirkuk remained executions by the Islamic State as it attempts to maintain control over the Hawija district. A total of 23 people were killed by the group during the week. There were also two attacks inside the city of Kirkuk. In total 26 people died and 2 were wounded in the province. Hawija is a major source of instability in northern Iraq. IS has been using it to funnel men into neighboring Salahaddin and Diyala.

Even though east Mosul was liberated a month ago the city is becoming more violent. There were a total of 95 incidents in Ninewa leading to 315 dead and 240 wounded. Almost all those casualties occurred within Mosul. IS executed 99 people in west Mosul, and Coalition air strikes were blamed for 5 deaths and 7 injured. Most of the rest came in east Mosul due to 1 suicide car bomb, 3 car bombs, 6 suicide bombers, along with daily mortar, rocket and drone strikes. While more people are returning to the city now, several hundred people are still leaving each day as well to escape these constant attacks.

Salahaddin officials have been complaining about IS cells operating in the eastern districts. The security forces have repeatedly gone through those areas, but have never rooted out the insurgents. In the last two weeks attacks have remained small in the governorate with a mix of shootings and bombings. A car bomb did go off during the week in Tikrit, another sign that IS has been able to re-infiltrate into liberated areas across the country.

Violence In Iraq By Month 2016-2017
Month
Incidents
Dead
Wounded
Jan
723
2,418
1,986
Feb
657
1,685
1,724
Mar
683
1,685
2,095
1st Qtr Daily
Avg/91
22.6
63.6
63.7
Apr
630
1,840
1,904
May
675
1,644
2,484
Jun
631
2,111
6,455
2nd Qtr Daily
Avg/91
21.2
61.4
119.1
Jul
531
1,329
1,708
Aug
574
1,263
1,376
Sep
573
1,203
1,602
3rd Qtr Daily
Avg/92
18.2
41.2
50.9
Oct
589
2,965
2,376
Nov
599
4,389
3,972
Dec
585
1,566
11,681
4th Qtr Daily
Avg/92
19.2
96.9
195.6
Jan 1-7
188
509
1,346
Jan 8-14
168
363
1,044
Jan 15-21
137
583
1,264
Jan 22-28
145
289
310
Jan 29-31
74
127
134
JAN
712
1,871
4,098
Feb 1-7
123
388
176
Feb 8-14
163
417
381

Province
Violence
Anbar
8 Incidents
7 Killed: 1 Civilian, 6 ISF
24 Wounded: 9 Civilians, 15 ISF
2 Shootings
4 IEDs
1 Suicide Car Bomb
1 Rockets
Baghdad
30 Incidents
45 Killed: 1 Hashd, 2 ISF, 42 Civilians
95 Wounded: 3 ISF, 92 Civilians
4 Shootings
18 IEDs
1 Sticky Bomb
3 Car Bombs
1 Rockets
Basra
10 Incidents
2 Killed: 1 Civilian, 1 Hashd
1 Wounded: 1 Civilian
3 Shootings
18 IEDs
Diyala
9 Incidents
18 Killed: 8 Hashd, 10 Civilians
12 Wounded: 3 Hashd, 4 Civilians, 5 ISF
4 Shootings
4 IEDs
Kirkuk
5 Incidents
26 Killed: 1 ISF, 25 Civilians
2 Wounded: 2 Civilians
2 Shootings
2 IEDs
Ninewa
95 Incidents
315 Killed: 4 Hashd, 15 ISF, 296 Civilians
240 Wounded: 12 Hashd, 20 ISF, 208 Civilians
23 Shootings
16 IEDs
6 Suicide Bombers
1 Suicide Car Bomb
3 Car Bombs
15 Mortars
11 Rockets
22 Drone Strikes
33 Suicide Bombers Killed/Arrested
39 Car Bombs Destroyed
Salahaddin
6 Incidents
4 Killed: 1 Civilian, 1 ISF, 2 Hashd
7 Wounded: 1 Civilian, 1 ISF, 5 Hashd
4 Shootings
1 Car Bomb
1 Suicide Bomber Killed

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, "Iraqi officials: Suicide bombings in eastern Mosul kill 5," Associated Press, 2/10/17

Al-Aqily, Ali, Al-Jabiri, Jassim, and Van Heuvelen, Ben, "Assassination and bombings roil Basra," Iraq Oil report, 2/15/17

Anadolu Agency, "Separate attacks in western Iraq leave 3 soldiers dead," 2/9/17

Al Araby, "Fatal car bomb hits south Baghdad's industrial area," 2/15/17

Bas News, "Iraqi Hizbollah Secretary General Killed in Basrah," 2/9/17

Al Mada, "Bombing of 12 music shops raises concerns about security in Basra," 2/8/17
- “Conflict of powers between 4 military leaders to secure Metaibija and the Hamrin Hills from Daesh,” 2/14/17

NINA, "An officer killed and another one wounded in a car bomb explosion during dismantling it north of Tikrit," 2/11/17

Rudaw, "Protesters rally in Baghdad calling for electoral reform," 2/10/17

UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, "Statement on the attack against the IHEC Electoral Office in Basra," 2/12/17

Xinhua, "9 killed in car bomb attack in Baghdad," 2/11/17