Mosul: Iraqis, Kurds Liberate 20 Villages from Islamic State as Partisan Tensions Rise

The battle to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State has entered its second day, with the Iraqi government reporting that 20 villages surrounding the regional capital have been liberated, but the gates of the metropolis itself remain far from participating militias.

The Kurdish outlet Rudaw is chronicling the situation on the ground in detail. Its short live reports note that many villages are populated with hidden Islamic State snipers, ticking off Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces one by one.

“There are many ISIS snipers taking up positions inside the village of Kani Harami,” one report reads. “More than 80 percent of Abbasi village was also liberated yesterday, but the army withdrew as ISIS trenches halted the advance, forcing a retreat.”

In the areas where the Islamic State is less popular, Rudaw reports that locals have taken up arms against them, joining the Iraqi troops and peshmerga.

Reuters’s report matches that of Rudaw, noting that multiple villages — 20 at press time — were documented to no longer have Islamic State terrorists present. Reuters notes that, in addition to the wide variety of militias on the ground fighting, “more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers are also deployed in support missions, as are troops from France, Britain, Canada and other Western nations.”

The coalition of an estimated 30,000 fighters expects to meet up to 8,000 jihadists in urban Mosul. Over one million civilians may flee, the UN warns. UN agencies have built five camps in anticipation of the Mosul initiative. While the coalition has yet to approach the city of Mosul proper, reports of the Islamic State using civilians as human shields are surfacing already. European leaders are also warning that they may face not only an influx of new refugees but a tide of fleeing Islamic State jihadists looking to return home and avoid death on the battlefield.

As the operation continues, tensions between Shiite militias, the Shiite Iraqi government, Turkish forces, Kurdish soldiers, and a Kurdish Marxist terrorist group are growing. While the fight against the Islamic State is going slowly but smoothly, the political future of Mosul remains extremely uncertain in the event that the Islamic State falls.

At least one civilian representative, Nineveh plains tribe spokesman Azaz Khlaf Hajij, told Rudaw they are only agreeing to aid because of the peshmerga’s presence. “We trust the Peshmerga forces one hundred per cent to successfully liberate Mosul, but as for the Iraqi forces, we have our own fears,” he told the outlet. The Islamic State was able to conquer Mosul largely because the Iraqi soldiers stationed in the city fled.

The leaders of these respective forces are trying to keep a united front. As The New York Times reports, Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi held a joint press conference Monday affirming that their soldiers are cooperating on the ground.

Whether the Iraqis can get along with the Peshmerga is a small concern compared to the larger tensions in the coalition, among them the ongoing war of words between Abadi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan, who has dismissed Abadi as “not on my level,” insists that Turkish troops will help liberate Mosul, to protect Sunni populations that he believes will be ethnically cleansed by invading Shiite militias.

“What you call ‘Baghdad’ is an administrator of an army composed of Shiites,” Erdogan said Tuesday. “Will we talk to them? They say 30,000 Shiite militants are coming. They should be prepared for what they will face.”

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Tuesday, “In principal, there is a consensus on [Turkish] involvement in the coalition,” a claim continuously refuted by Baghdad.

Among those also insisting they have an invite to the party are the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist organization the Turkish government has sworn to eradicate. The PKK participated in the liberation of Sinjar, a Yazidi community north of Mosul, and garnered the goodwill of civilians there by fighting the Islamic State when the Peshmerga fled, citing too many land mines and booby traps. The Peshmerga argue that PKK meddling led to a delay in executing the operation to liberate Sinjar, however, which resulted in needless bloodshed.

Both the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Regional Government object to PKK participation.

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