Two weeks since announcing the start of the operation to liberate the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, the Iraqi army has crossed the city limits, and authorities claim troops are progressing steadily in capturing the city’s dense urban neighborhoods.
While reports circulated yesterday that the Iraqi military had entered Mosul’s city limits after liberating the last suburb on the route in, these reports were confirmed Tuesday. CBS News placed the progress of the Iraqi troops as moderately paced, with troops entering the neighborhood of Gogjali Tuesday and nearly securing the area before moving deeper into the city.
The troops in Mosul currently are Iraqi special forces, not standard troops. Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi told CBS News that his contingent are expecting significant retaliation from Islamic State forces in the city. “Daesh [ISIS] is fighting back and have set up concrete blast walls to block off the Karama neighborhood and our troops’ advance,” he explained. Karama is the next neighborhood after Gogjali en route to the heart of the city.
CBS News cites American estimates stating that there are at most nearly 8,000 Islamic State terrorists in and around the city, prepared to keep Iraqi forces at bay. While a coalition of militias are involved in the operation – including U.S. air support, Kurdish Peshmerga troops, and Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) troops – the various factions have agreed that only the official Iraqi military should enter Mosul’s city limits. This caused some early alarm among the Peshmerga, who noted that Mosul’s fall to the Islamic State in 2014 occurred largely because Iraqi soldiers fled the battle.
The Iraqi military appears confident in their advances, however. “The soldiers of the Counterterrorism Force are advancing very fast. I wouldn’t say a matter of days but matter of hours before advancing and start cleansing the city of Mosul from terrorism,” Iraqi General Talib Shegati said on Monday.
The Iraqi news outlet Al Sumaria has reported that Iraqi troops have taken at least one major prize in Mosul so far: the headquarters of the state television network in Mosul. “The security forces liberated the Iraqi Media Network building on the left coast conductor and raised the Iraqi flag over the premises,” an Iraqi official reportedly announced on national television.
“Iraqi Media Network is the official means of media [for the government] and includes satellite channels, radio stations and newspapers and magazines,” Al Sumaria notes, highlighting the importance of recapturing that facility.
The battle continues, however. The Kurdish outlet Rudaw reports that Iraq’s “Golden Brigade” special forces are engaged in heavy “street fighting” with Islamic State terrorists. In addition to attempting to neutralizing the Iraqi military operation, Islamic State terrorists have begun to move thousands of civilians into more secure locations, likely to use them later as human shields, according to the United Nations.
In addition to corralling civilian, Al Sumaria has reported another sign that the Islamic State appears to believe victory is no longer within reach. “ISIS had suddenly ceased referring to Mosul as the capital of its caliphate through its news media outlets to possibly influence public perceptions about the imminent liberation of Mosul according to the Iraqi satellite TV network, Al Sumaria,” the website Iraqi News reported Tuesday. Iraqi News largely operates as a base to translate Arabic-language national media into English.
The aftermath of a successful liberation of Mosul remains uncertain, however, even as Baghdad claims advances in the battle. The presence of the PMF in the battle may endanger U.S. special forces on the ground, who Iran-backed PMF members have threatened to kill in the past. While the Pentagon has insisted the PMF will not enter Mosul – leaving open-ended whether this statement refers to the Mosul operation or to Mosul’s official city limits – the PMF and Iraqi government have confirmed their cooperation with the Peshmerga and Iraqi troops.
Their presence has alarmed the government of Turkey, which has stationed itself near the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil and demanded a role in the liberation of Mosul. Baghdad has repeatedly demanded Ankara vacate the nation, citing a violation of national sovereignty.