Battle of Mosul
Iraq’s announcement of the start of the offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS is a pivotal moment in defeating ISIS, which has made the city its de facto capital in Iraq since seizing it in mid-2014.
The Iraqi offensive on Mosul is the culmination of a two-year Iraqi military campaign to remove the ISIS military threat from northern Iraq.
Much of the U.S. military presence in Iraq during the last two years has been geared toward training and advising Iraq’s security forces to defeat ISIS militarily and take back the cities controlled by the group, particularly Mosul. So far, 35,000 Iraqi troops have been trained by the U.S.-led coalition.
At the other hand ISIS fighters in Mosul have built berms and trenches along the major roadways into the city and placed bombs along roads, on bridges and inside buildings. Giant pits of tire and oil have been readied to create giant dark clouds that would make it difficult for coalition aircraft to conduct airstrikes in the city.
It promises to be not only Iraqi Army’s largest operation but also its toughest test as ISIS fighters have had more than two years to prepare elaborate defenses inside Iraq’s second largest city known as Mosul.
Mosul the City
Located along the banks of the Tigris River in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, Mosul is Iraq’s second-largest city, normally with more than 2 million residents.
The population consists of a mix of the diverse ethnic groups in northern Iraq; the majority are Sunni Arabs and Kurds. It is believed that 1 million residents remain in the city.
Mosul is the main industrial city in northern Iraq and a vital transportation hub in the flow of goods to and from Turkey and Syria. It is near significant oilfields in northern Iraq and a major oil pipeline into Turkey.
While mainstream media have thus far focused on the significance of Iraqi forces liberating the town.
Absent from international headlines, however, is what Mosul’s liberation means to those who call it home and to fellow Iraqis across the nation. How was Mosul viewed by Iraqis before the occupation of ISIS, and how will it be viewed after it is liberated?
Traditionally, Mosul has been viewed as one of the three pillars of Iraq, alongside the cities of Baghdad and Basra, dating back to Iraq’s administrative layout under the Ottoman Empire. The three cities were the capitals of the three Ottoman provinces bearing the same name.
While the three provinces enjoyed local governance, the city of Baghdad retained administrative powers over all three provinces for the majority of the empire’s existence.
Owing to Mosul’s historical ties to Baghdad and Basra, the League of Nations decided – at the time – that the Mosul province would be administered by Iraq rather than Turkey, during the establishment of the modern-day Iraqi state.
This enabled the seamless establishment of Baghdad as the Iraqi capital, and retained Mosul and Basra as the country’s other influential economic hubs.
While Mosul is home to a vast number of ethnicities and sects, its wealth of unique surrounding villages, all bustling with Iraq’s Kurds, Yazidis, Shabak, Christian Assyrians and Armenians, led to Mosul’s unique cultural mix and diversity.
Despite Mosul’s location up north, what connected Maslawis (residents of Mosul) to the rest of Iraq was their significant class of educated citizens and highly regarded institutions. In general, Mosuls were well-educated and respected by the rest of Iraq.
Many Iraqis would go to the city to attend its prestigious University of Mosul, whose medical college dates back to the early establishment of the Iraqi state. If educated Iraqis were not going to Mosul to study, the educated people of Mosul were coming to the rest of Iraq to teach, as their presence was evident in schools and universities across the country. For many Iraqis, this is what Mosul means to them.
Mosul also represents the city that provided Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime with a large number of military and security personnel.
Unlike Baghdad and Basra, Mosul did not fight the US-led war in 2003. Instead, regime loyalists and the military simply integrated into the civilian population. This has meant that a large concentration of ex-regime loyalists were based in Mosul, which was evident when Hussein’s sons were caught hiding in Mosul in 2003.
At the time, many of those elements morphed into extremist groups such ISIL and carried out attacks to undermine the new political order. This saw the city quickly became a no-go zone for many in Iraq who were afraid of lawlessness and the free reign of armed groups in the city.
Hence, when Mosul fell to ISIS in 2014, many in Iraq were not as surprised.
Why Is It Important to Retake Mosul?
ISIS’ seizure of Mosul was a blow to Iraq’s political stability and a propaganda coup for the group, which wanted to demonstrate it was gaining territory to establish a great caliphate nation.
A successful offensive on Mosul would take from ISIS its last strategic stronghold in Iraq and end the territorial dominance it commanded over large areas of north-western Iraq for the past two years.
The group’s control of territory there was made easier by the flow of ISIS fighters from its de facto capital of Raqqa in north-central Syria. An ISIS defeat in Mosul would cut off that route and leave the group’s military operations effectively contained to Syria.
American military officials have informed that the city would be enveloped from the north and south by Iraqi army. Enveloping the city might take some time, Once that is completed, an elite Iraqi special operations force known as the Counter-Terrorism Service will push into the center of the city to drive out ISIS.
it is believed that around a toatal of 800,000 civilians could flee the city. As part of its planning, the Iraqi government has worked with the United Nations and international relief organizations in building 20 camps to take care of them.
Can Mosul overcome the horrible reign of ISIS and rise again as an Iraqi centre of education and culture.
The question going forward is:
Will Mosul remain a pillar of Iraqi identity or will the legacy of ISIS’s occupation result in trust lost between Mosul’s and the rest of Iraqis?
When this question was posed to a former Iraqi general and resident of the city, with relatives still living there, he said: “Mosul can remain the Mosul of old, the Mosul of officers, teachers and professors only if Mosuls want that to happen.”
Evidence of this is witnessed by the recent liberated Christian-Assyrian villages of Bartella and Qara Qosh, just outside Mosul, by the ISF. There is a newly built trust between the locals and the ISF that will be vital for the future of Iraq, if this trust is replicated in the liberation of Mosul.
Ultimately it will be the actions and reactions of Mosul’s citizens during and after military operations that will decide what the new Mosul will be known for. If they are able to overcome the horrible psychological and social trauma of ISIS’s reign, then Mosul can once again rise as an Iraqi center of education, culture and professionals.
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