MUSINGS ON IRAQ BY Joel Wing – 13 July 2017
|The second day after Mosul was declared liberated there was still fightinggoing on inside the city. Gunfire could be heard, helicopters were attacking positions, and smoke was rising over the Old City district. The day before the U.S. led Coalition carried out three air strikes. The Iraqi forces (ISF) again claimed they were just mopping up IS elements, but it appeared to be a bit more than that. As the Islamic State has done since the start of the battle, they were firing and maneuvering. U.S. General Stephen Townsend admitted that there were pockets of IS men left in the city.
IS members were also being rounded up within the city. Several insurgents were arrested in the Makawi neighborhood in the Old City district, and others attempting to cross a bridge into east Mosul. 25 IS families also turned themselves into the intelligence service. Several women were arrested as a result after their names turned up on lists, and they were discovered to be members of IS’s Hisba morality police. Large numbers of militants will likely be detained for days. There have been reports for days that IS fighters were shaving their beards, changing their clothes, and attempting to melt into the population. The ISF are still trying to hunt them down in the east side, which was freed back in January.
Securing Mosul remains a problem. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi is discussing creating three military commands to hold Ninewa. That will include the army’s 15thand 16th Divisions, which have been doing security duties in the east, along with the Federal Police, local police, and tribal Hashd units that have been formed inside Mosul. There is also talkof integrating the tribal Hashd and Ninewa Guards into the local police. Finally, the Italian Defense Ministry has offeredto train the ISF in Mosul. The Italians have a history of working with the Iraqi forces since after the 2003 invasion, and are currently part of the Coalition training mission. The problem with Mosul is that there are a multiplicity of groups doing security and none of them cooperate with each other. That opens gaps that insurgents can exploit. This was a result of the government not having enough forces for both the fighting and holding. There was also a huge gap in police in Ninewa, because many of those lost back in 2014 when IS swept through the province were never replaced. Again, this was a shortcoming of the Iraqi government not fully preparing for the long term issues of the war. Hopefully these units can be brought together, a unified command formed, and Italy can be taken up on its offer to train them into a professional force.
Mosul remains one of the world’s largest graveyards. Civil Defense teams, which clear rubble and rescue people pulledover 2,000 bodies from the rubble in west Mosul. According to them there were 200 houses that were destroyed with residents inside them. Much of the western half of the city was damaged during the campaign. The Coalition and Iraqis used more air strikes and artillery to root out the insurgents from the densely packed western side. The government also told people to stay within the city because they could not take care of them if they left. The Islamic State also herded people with them to cover their retreats. All together this has led to a huge human toll.
Iraqi and Coalition air strikes remained an issue. The Independent talked with people from west Mosul who claimed that the bombings were disproportionate to the number of IS fighters targeted. One man said that there were not many IS members in his neighborhood, yet it got hit a lot. A volunteer medic said that in east Mosul there were fewer airstrikes and they were more accurate, while in the west there were more of them and used in a “haphazard” manner. The day before Amnesty International released a reportthat in part criticized the consequences of the air support. The U.S. led Coalition responded by saying Amnesty was being “irresponsible,” that combat can never be clean, and that more lives could have been lost if these assets were not used. As the Independent, Amnesty and others have pointed out there is definitely a debate over the cost and use of Coalition air power.
Lots of IS elements were left outside of Mosul and they have now come to life. First, IS still holds the town of Imam al-Gharbito the southeast in the Qayara district. The group held Sharia court hearings, and executed ten people. According to Al Mada, Imam al-Gharbi was only lightly protected by a small number of tribal Hashd who had not been paid for months. The town was also involved in smuggling to IS held areas of Shirqat in Salahaddin. IS arrived in small groups on July 5, and the locals thought they were just smugglers. Some IS elements stayed in the city, while others kidnapped several families and took them as human shields as they set off for Hawija in Kirkuk. Yesterday the ISF announced an operation to re-take Imam al-Gharbi, but it is not completed yet. In the Hamam al-Alil district to the south of Mosul the militants attackedfour towns, but were driven off. They were dressed in Hashd uniforms and driving Hashd vehicles to infiltrate the area. To the west the Hatradistrict was assaulted, a sheep marketin the south as well, and the Peshmerga turned back another attack in Rabiaalong the Syrian border. These operations have been going on for several weeks now. They show that IS is still very much alive in all sectors of the province. Imam al-Gharbi is the most serious threat as the insurgents have held the town for a week now despite a determined attempt by the government’s forces to dislodge them. They are also threatening the Qayara air and logistics base, which is nearby.
Al Sumaria reported that the IS elements in Tal Afar declared it a breakaway state from the caliphate. According to the outlet, foreigners have taken over the area from Iraqi members, and are attempting to set up their own power structure separate from IS central. The story appears to be part of a larger narrative that is currently playing out in the Iraqi press that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has died, and the group is fracturing as a result. There is no way to tell whether these reports are real, but the Islamic State could be splintering now that they are being defeated across the battlefield.
There was another story on vigilante justice in Ninewa. The Australian went to several towns in Hamam al-Alil district there IS families and suspects were being detained and killed. In Johaniya, 6 uniformed men drove up in an ambulance and seized the town’s muezzin who was not seen again. A few days later down the road from the village a pile of burned bodies was found dumped along the road. On another road a few days before three bodies were found. In Angul Hawar a tunnel was discovered with corpses being left inside. The police in Hamam al-Alil told the paper that kidnappings and killings of IS suspects and their families had been going up in the last two months. They reported 2-3 abductions per week, with more going unregistered. IS families were facing forced evictions as well. In June in Gayara flyers were put up demanding 67 families leave or be killed. In Salahiya all the IS wives had been forced out except one, and then their houses burned. The rule of law and authority of the government if largely absent in most of Ninewa. The desire for revenge against IS also runs deep amongst the locals. Together that means any local group, especially those with guns, is free to exact their own forms of justice and that is happening all over Iraq, not just Ninewa. Abductions, extra judicial killings, and group punishment are the results.
The Washington Post wrote about how IS propaganda was trying to deal with its defeat in Mosul. On social media the organization is trying to claim that the loss was just one in a larger war. It also claimed that Mosul was a defeat for all Muslims against the Shiites and the “Crusader Coalition.” As Charlie Winter pointed out, the Islamic State probably wrote off Mosul over a year ago. They never believed they could hold it, but the nine months it took to free it were used in its information operations to show that it was fighting the entire world, and that its ideology could survive.
The displacementcrisis continued in Ninewa. A new camp was opened in Bartella to the east of Mosul. 153 families were transferred there. From July 9-11, 2,900 arrived in east Mosul. Not all of those were returns. Many of them were just checking on their property to see what shape it was and then they would return to camps or lodgings they had in other provinces. Over 800,000 people remain displaced. A few thousand are going back each day, but it is still a trickle. Fears of IS sleeper cells and attacks is deterring more from making the trip.
Baghdad Post, “Merge of Tribal Mobilization, Nineveh Guards in gov’l police discussed,” 7/12/17
– “Over 2,000 bodies exhumed from under Mosul’s rubble,” 7/12/17
Bas News, “Pictures: Peshmerga Kills 17 IS Militants Northwest Mosul,” 7/12/17
Cockburn, Patrick, “Mosul families complain overuse of airstrikes killed thousands as they count their dead in wake of Isis defeat,” Independent, 7/11/17
Elmanzalawy, Elwy, “17 IS militants killed as Iraqi joint force foils 4th attack near Mosul,” Iraqi News, 7/12/17
Erickson, Amanda, “What the Islamic State is saying about its loss of Mosul,” Washington Post, 7/12/17
George, Susannah, “US-led coalition: Amnesty report on Mosul ‘irresponsible,’” Associated Press, 7/12/17
Al Ghad Press, “Reacting to two attacks with more than 30 vehicles west of Mosul,” 7/12/17
Iraq Newspaper, “Iraqi Newspaper Reporter in Mosul: Terrorists Launched An Attack On A Sheep Market In The Al-Jurn Village,” 7/12/17
Khabaar, “Reuters: Iraqi forces clashed again with Daash in the old city of Mosul two days after the victory announcement,” 7/12/17
Loyd, Anthony, “Mosul: ‘I would kill every last one of the ISIS families,’” The Australian, 7/12/17
Al Mada, “Daash exploited the liberation of Mosul and occupied a village south Qayara a week ago,” 7/13/17
Al Masalah, “Security forces continue to clean up the old city in Mosul,” 7/12/17
Mercy Corps, “Humanitarian Crisis Escalates as Fighting in Mosul Subsides,” 7/12/17
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Parliament panel to impeach federal police commander over Mosul losses,” Iraqi News, 7/12/17
New Sabah, “Three military units will hold Nineveh after its liberation from Daash,” 7/12/17
Reuters, “Iraq strikes Islamic State in Mosul days after declaring victory,” 7/12/17
Shafaaq News, “Clashes in Mosul two days after liberation,” 7/12/17
– “Daash attacking sheep market in Mosul,” 7/12/17
– “URGENT A new attack by Daash disguised in the uniforms and vehicles of the popular crowd,” 7/12/17
– “URGENT Daash launches three attacks and detains families near Mosul,” 7/12/17
Al Sumaria, “Daash executes 10 civilians on charge of fleeing the state south of Mosul,” 7/12/17
– “Local source: Tal Afar is calling for an independent state,” 7/12/17
Al Taghier TV, “The Italian Ministry of Defense declares its readiness to assume the task of maintaining stability in Mosul,” 7/12/17
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “Iraq Situation: UNHCR Flash Update – 12 July 2017” 7/12/17
Yar, Cengiz, Hussain, Mutaza, “The Cost Of Liberation, Documenting Life Amid the Battle for Mosul,” The Intercept, 7/11/17