Iraqi forces have recently recaptured several villages in Southern Mosul, as they move towards an assault on the last area held by the Islamic State group. With the new progress made, Iraqi forces are now within striking range of the Mosul airport.
According to the BBC, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally announced the offensive on February 19. Last month, the forces retook the eastern part of the city, but the western part of the city will be a bigger challenge because of its many narrow, winding streets. As of now, there is no advance from East Mosul because all bridges have been destroyed.
There is a concern for the safety of civilians who are still trapped in the western part of the city. With hundreds of thousands of people unable to escape, the chances of close, urban warfare are slim. Leaflets were dropped over the weekend from planes that warned residents of the impending assault and pleaded with the militants to surrender.
NPR states that despite continuous unrest, glimpses of ordinary life are beginning to return to Eastern Mosul. People have become more optimistic, which in turn has helped residents deal with ISIS’ constant sniper attacks, suicide bombings, and armed drones. Humanitarian agencies have been less hopeful about the current situation, and are preparing to aid 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee their homes as a result of the assault.
So far the coalition against ISIS has conducted more than 10,000 air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq. It has also been responsible for training and equipping more than 70,000 Iraqi forces. With the advances of the coalition, the Islamic State group has escalated its attacks in Mosul in retaliation for the setbacks that have forced it out of most Iraqi cities.
Reuters says that the militants have developed their own network of passageways and tunnels to help them hide and fight amongst the civilians, vanish after hit-and-run operations, as well as track government movements. Western Mosul has cultural significance for the city because it contains the old city center, ancient souks, the Grand Mosque, and the most government administrative buildings. Back in 2014, it was from the Grand Mosque in Mosul where the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the new “caliphate” over parts of Syria and Iraq.
There is much hope that this new assault will be successful. The New York Times reports that given all of the constraints, the fight will be very difficult on both sides. Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of the American-led effort against the Islamic State, believes that “Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi’s have risen to the challenge.” Helping along with the coalition on the ground are some 450 American advisers that are working with Iraqi officers to carry out the attack. If the attack is successful, it will be a huge victory for Iraqi troops as well as a detrimental blow to the Islamic State.