The battle in Mosul is expected to become the largest battle fought in Iraq since the US-led operation in 2003. According to the Iraqi army, approximately 50 villages have been taken from the ISIS since last Monday, as the army prepares for the onslaught on Mosul, where 5,000 to 6,000 ISIS fighters are believed to remain.
The international coalition battling to eradicate ISIS in Mosul is a disparate assembly, lacking true cohesion as each has its own reasons for fighting in this offensive.
“It’s a very, very dangerous cocktail,” Marina Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said. “This is a group with completely different end-goals. There is a real fear that when they get rid of ISIS from Mosul then things are really going to blow up.”
The Key Players and Their Motivations:
- Iraqi Security Forces – Leading the mission to recapture Mosul are Iraq’s security forces. In charge of a coalition of some 65,000 troops, the Iraqis have returned to the scene of their defeat reenergized and trained and equipped by the US. In recent months, they’ve amassed a few victories in liberating other ISIS-held areas.
- Kurdish Peshmerga – While Iraqi security forces have been attacking from the south, Kurdish forces from Iraqi Kurdistan have advanced from the east and north. The Kurdish forces, known as Peshmerga, are in some instances fighting alongside Iraqi forces. A marriage of convenience, it is a potentially uneasy alliance. Both have an immediate needed to defeat ISIS — as well as a U.S.-brokered oil deal signed in August. And, while the Iraqi government wants to eliminate ISIS’ presence in Iraq, the Kurds have an additional motive–that of becoming an independent, internationally recognized state.
- Iraqi Militias – The majority of the Iraqi militias are Shiite Muslims backed by Iran. They aren’t officially part of the Iraqi security forces, but do fight in concert with them. According to NBC News, “while not officially part of the Iraqi security forces, the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU, was formally recognized by the Baghdad government earlier this year as an ‘independent military formation.’ The PMU’s involvement in the ISIS fight has drawn significant criticism. An Amnesty International report this week accused the militias of ‘war crimes’ and ‘gross human rights violations,’ alleging its fighters were guilty of torturing, forcibly disappearing and executing Sunni Muslims they suspected of being ISIS sympathizers.”
- Turkey – While Turkey’s involvement in the Mosul operation is still somewhat ambiguous, Turkey has set up a base in Kurdish-controlled territory inside Iraq. This is an action which has angered the Baghdad government, because it has not sanctioned Turkey’s presence. Turkey has, however, been training local Sunni tribesmen to join the assault on Mosul and local Christian and Yezidi fighters have also joined the offensive.
- International Forces – On the ground the U.S. has more than 4,800 troops stationed in Iraq and reportedly “a good sizable portion” are at Qayyarah Airfield, a base 40 miles south of Mosul. Then too, some 200 U.S. personnel are embedded with Iraqi and Kurdish forces closer to the front. These are mostly special forces with advisory roles and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers who call in airstrikes. The US is joined by other nations in carrying out NATO’s “train, advise and assist” mandate. This includes forces from Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden, Italy, Denmark and others.
In the midst of gearing up for battle, a chemical weapons cache was uncovered. Photographs taken in mid October of the weapons, in addition to chemical readings from the stockpiled weapons, were obtained by the ground team of Ed Alexander of BLACKOPS Cyber, an intelligence agency which specializes in counterterrorism, advanced cyber capabilities and Darknet operations.
Iraqi troops had captured the cache of chemical weapons, which were previously held by ISIS in Qayarah, Iraq, a city east of ISIS territory in Mosul. This location is not far from where ISIS fired artillery shells filled with mustard gas at U.S. troops last month. One of three tests on the weapons showed a positive reading of a mustard agent, according to Military.Com.
The discovery of the weapons cache validates growing concerns that ISIS is planning to use chemical weapons against U.S. and Iraqi forces during the Mosul battle.
Iraqi forces requested that coalition forces assist with the recovery and containment of the weapons, including the 36 rockets found at the site, Alexander said.
According to an article by Joshua Phillip, at Epoch Times:
“According to Drew Berquist, a former intelligence contractor who recently returned from deployment in Iraq, ISIS has two factories for making homemade rockets—one in Raqqa, Syria, and another in Mosul—and said ‘that’s what these look like.’
He said the picture of the rockets are telling, ‘because they do that all over the region,’ and that it’s likely ISIS has stepped up its production for the coming fight for Mosul because ‘they view this as an apocalyptic battle.’”
Berquist also cautioned that the rockets can be fitted with different types of weapons, including chemical and explosive weapons. He said that ISIS has definitely used chemical weapons. “They’ve got them, and they’ll try to use them in the days and weeks ahead in Mosul.”
Moreover, Dr. Robert J. Bunker, adjunct faculty at Claremont Graduate University, who has studied chemical warfare, indicated that the images do show positive readings of chemical weapons.
ISIS has already massacred 284 villagers, including children, who were being used as human shields. The terrorist group has also taken 550 families hostage for continued use as human shields in Mosul, according to the UN. But, they too are at risk of being killed.
Local families have been waving the white flag as ISIS rounds up villagers in an attempt to hold off the approaching coalition forces in the battle for Mosul. Unfortunately, the waving of the white flags has been in vain.