Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced that the battle to retake Mosul, the nation’s second-largest city, from the Islamic State has reached “an advanced stage.” Following the Kurdish Peshmerga announcement Tuesday that they had completed the mission Baghdad approved for them, however, the Iraqi army has stumbled on its way to the urban center.
“We reached an advanced stage in the battle to liberate the city of Mosul, and our plan is not to evacuate the families from the cities during the liberation operations,” Abadi said Wednesday from Baghdad, praising the Iraqi troops. “The international coalition is surprised by the performance of the Iraqi army in the war on ISIS, and we must continue training the security forces and restructuring them away from sectarianism,” he proclaimed.
The mission to retake Mosul had been ahead of schedule since it began earlier this month. Yesterday, Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces announced that they had liberated all the towns their mission included, and dug a trench to mark the line after which Baghdad would not let them advance against the Islamic State. Their mission is complete, but not over: The Peshmerga must now ensure that Islamic State jihadis fleeing the inner city do not attempt to reestablish themselves in the suburbs.
With the Peshmerga advance complete, however, news out of Mosul took a downward turn Wednesday. The Associated Press reports that Iraqi troops are being distracted by “spoiler” attacks far from the city, forced to fight far from the city gates.
Reuters adds that the southern front to enter Mosul, where the Iraqi army is operation without Kurdish help, has stalled. “As Iraqi forces move closer to Mosul, we see that [Islamic State] resistance is getting stronger,” American Maj. Chris Parker told the news service.
To remedy the situation, Baghdad is expected to send in Shiite paramilitary troops who are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), many Iranian-trained and skeptical of U.S. aid. An Iraqi defense ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the PMF would “open a new front” in Mosul, though he did not say where or how close to U.S.-allied Peshmerga this would occur. As the Peshmerga have secured the north and the Iraqi army floundered in the south, the latter is the more likely option.
The first time Baghdad announced a mission to liberate Mosul, the PMF threatened to abandon the war against the Islamic State and instead kill Americans if U.S. troops participated in the fight. That mission was eventually canceled because Iraqi soldiers fled in the face of Islamic State attacks. Shiite militias have also been accused of crimes against civilians, including ethnic cleansing, in areas where they have eradicated the Islamic State.
Their presence has particularly alarmed the government of Turkey, which has insisted on a role in the liberation of Mosul against Baghdad’s wishes. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has argued that Turkey has a “historical responsibility” to protect the Sunnis of Mosul and threatened to use ground troops if necessary to defend against Shiite troops. Abadi has repeatedly demanded that Turkish troops, in the region to help train Peshmerga, evacuate Iraq entirely.
The Pentagon has confirmed that U.S. forces are currently “in harm’s way” in supporting roles in Mosul, largely with the Peshmerga.
There remain an estimated 6,000 jihadis in the northeastern outskirts of Mosul, according to Reuters.