The government of Iraq announced at 2AM local time Monday that the initiative to eradicate the Islamic State from Mosul, the nation’s second largest city, has begun.
Iraqi forces, alongside with Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga troops, captured nine villages surrounding the northern Iraqi city, working to surround the city and eradicate the jihadist fighters embedded there. “We have liberated 200 square kilometers so far,” Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said, according to the Agence France-Presse. The Iraqi government issued a similar statement, telling reporters that the Islamic State had suffered “heavy losses of life and equipment” in the outskirts of the city.
Barzani noted that the cooperation between the Iraqi military and the Kurdish Peshmerga was a first: “This is the first time that the block of the Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army are mixed and shared in the battlefield against the terrorist organization.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the offensive on Monday morning, addressing the people of Mosul directly. “These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul, which is to get rid of Daesh [Isis] and to secure your dignity. God willing, we shall win,” he said in a nationally televised speech.
The Iraqi government had initially attempted an operation to free Mosul in March, but was forced to “halt” it as Iraqi forces alone were insufficient to take the city, particularly given the challenge of identifying and disarming the complex series of mines and booby traps the Islamic State has installed around the city’s perimeter. Now, the estimated 30,000 troops entering the city also include battle-hardened Peshmerga, who have seen some of the most success of all militias fighting ISIS in the region.
The coalition will also receive the aid of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition, which will be providing air support. American officials have said they expect a “lasting defeat” of the Islamic State after this operation.
The Syrian government appears to support the measure, though an exodus of Islamic State terrorists out of Iraq may detrimentally affect the fight in Syria. The government of Turkey, meanwhile, insists it will play a role in the Mosul operation, despite Abadi repeatedly demanding Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan move his troops out of his country. While Ankara’s relationship with Baghdad is frayed, Erdogan has long enjoyed the support of the Kurdish government in Erbil.
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“What do they say? Turkey shouldn’t enter Mosul. Why can’t we enter? We have a 350-kilometer border [with Iraq],” Erdgan said Monday. “Others who have nothing to do with the region are entering it. We will not be responsible for the negative consequences that will emerge from any operation that doesn’t include Turkey. We will be involved both in the operation and at the [negotiating] table afterward. It is not possible for us to stay excluded,” he argued. The Turkish outlet Hurriyet reports that Erdogan has deployed a diplomatic delegation to Baghdad.
The Islamic State captured Mosul in 2014, forcing its entire Christian population to flee or face death or conversion and imposing Sharia law on the populace. Millions remain in the city, however, and the United Nations has warned that the operation may trigger another refugee flood, potentially sending over one million fleeing to Erbil, already home to thousands of Christian refugees.
The Kurdish outlet Kurdistan 24 has published videos of the beginning of the operation: