ISIS fell in Mosul. But what happens next?

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After months of fighting around Mosul’s outskirts, Iraqi forces took much of the city’s eastern side by January 2017. The grinding assault had months to go before Baghdad and its allies could achieve victory. But the gruesome toll of the operation, both upon civilians and soldiers, may leave a legacy for years to come.

Liberation delayed: the battle for Mosul

After three months of fighting, Iraqi forces reached the bank of the Tigris River at the center of Mosul in early January.

Troops with the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) encircled the Sukkar district on Jan. 9, Reuters wrote. This was reportedly in hopes of retaking the area around Mosul University. The next day, Iraqi forces entered Hadba, encountering ISIS suicide bombers, Reuters wrote, citing an Iraqi Army spokesman.

The use of human shields by the militants made advances into the city more difficult, a federal police source told Reuters. He added that ISIS fighters randomly shelled districts upon retreating and targeted civilians seeking the government forces.

As the fighting raged, displaced people from Mosul crossed the Syrian border into Kurdish-controlled Rojava, ARA News wrote on Jan. 10, citing local sources. An administrator of al-Hawl Camp said 114 families crossed the border that day and the camp received 504 civilians, according to the report.

Back in Mosul, a reporter for Kurdistan24 recorded captured ISIS shell and bomb factories in the Karamah and Tamim neighborhoods. Islamic State militants used commercial drones to drop bombs on Iraqi troops, Voice of America wrote, citing U.S. Col. Brett Sylvia. U.S. troops continued to aid Iraqi forces in anti-tank tactics, and observed degradation of vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) use by ISIS, Sylvia reportedly said.

Iraqi troops took the Sahiroon and Sumer districts on Jan. 12, according to reports citing Iraqi government sources. CTS forces took the 7th Nissan and Sadeeq districts, Reuters wrote. More than 144,500 people were displaced from Mosul between Oct. 17, 2016, and Jan. 12, 2017, according the UN International Organization for Migration.

The next day, Iraqi troops reached the grounds of Mosul University, according to media reports. The university complex had been a key base for ISIS forces since they took over the city in 2014. The troops took control of the Nineveh governorate and council buildings, parts of campus and Hadba neighborhood along the university’s northeast edge, the reports said.  After two days of fighting, Iraqi forces fully took the university campus, Al-Jazeera reported on Jan. 15.

Iraqi special forces continued to stitch up control of the eastern bank of the Tigris. Fighting took place in the Andalus and Shutra districts, where special forces encountered ISIS VBIEDs, Reuters wrote. By Jan. 17, anti-ISIS troops controlled the Shurta, ZaraeiKindiMuhandisinEast NinevehNabi Younis and Jammasa areas, according to reports. Fighting continued in the Ghabat area, according to Rudaw.

Some Islamic state fighters retreated to the western bank of the Tigris with civilian human shields in tow, Reuters wrote, citing a federal police spokesman. Iraqi government and military sources declared significant fighting in east Mosul completed on Jan. 18.

Many Islamic State commanders died during the east Mosul fighting, and the western side would be easier, Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Assadi told Reuters. Fighting continued in the eastern RashidiyaArabi and Ghabat districts, PressTV wrote on Jan. 20, citing Iraqi Joint Operations Command.

By Jan. 22, only Rashidiya district would remain under ISIS control east of the Tigris, reports said. The militants still controlled Malayin neighborhood also, according to Rudaw.

The advancing anti-ISIS forces faced significantly fewer planted explosives in Mosul compared to cities in Anbar province, AFP wrote, citing Iraqi military sources.

On Monday Jan. 23, the Iraqi government announced complete control of the eastern half of Mosul, Reuters wrote.

“This would have been a difficult task for any army in the world,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend in a news release. “And to see how far the Iraqis have come since 2014, not only militarily, but in their ability to put their differences aside and focus on a common enemy, gives real hope to the people of Iraq that after years of fighting and instability, peace and security are attainable.”

Anti-ISIS forces continued mopping up, according to reports. A resident of the western neighborhood of Zanjali said Islamic State militants had arrived across the river from the east, Reuters wrote. Security forces set up bridges across the Tigris south of the city and prepared to assault west Mosul, Reuters wrote, citing Iraqi state TV. Islamic State militants set up sniper positions in tall buildings in anticipation for the coming attack, Reuters wrote.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a human rights investigation after video emerged of abuses by troops wearing regular army and police uniforms, AP wrote. Concerns arose of irregular screening practices by Iraqi security forces upon men fleeing Mosul, Human Rights Watch wrote. Some Mosul residents expressed frustrations about the Iraqi government’s role in ISIS’ rise to power, and Baghdad’s failure to address the needs of life for residents, Reuters wrote.

Islamic State militants shelled areas of Mosul they had been pushed out of, according to reports. They also harassed the east side of the river with explosives, sometimes dropped from drones. An Iraqi military source said mustard gas and surface to surface rockets had been found in east Mosul, reports said. A grave containing 27 bodies showing signs of torture was discovered in Rashidiya district, PressTV wrote.

An estimated 750,000 civilians remained within the combat zone, Stars and Stripes reported. Car mechanics in Mosul reportedly saw a spike in business facilitated by the damaged vehicles and the gradual return to normal life in parts of the city, Reuters wrote. An Iraqi army source said ISIS used Ghabat district as a training area, which included an underground bunker, PressTV wrote.

West Mosul awaits

On Feb. 8, Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army Osman al-Ghani announced the operation to take west Mosul would soon begin, Rudaw reported. Al-Ghani said Iraqi Army, federal police and counter-terrorism forces would be involved, and acknowledged the Kurdish Peshmerga’s role in the Mosul operation, according to the report.

The same day, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend estimated that both Raqqa and Mosul would be retaken within six months, AP reported. Paratroopers from 82nd Airborne Division gave urban combat pointers to Iraqi troops, Stars and Stripes wrote on Feb. 14. Iraqi army troops moved into position in south and west of Mosul ahead of the coming offensive, AP reported.

The United Nations announced that aid operations in east Mosul would be suspended until the security improved, as Islamic State militants continued inflicting casualties in the area, AP wrote.

Islamic State militants prepped for the coming assault, creating sniper positions and pathways between buildings, Reuters reported.

-The attack begins

On Feb. 19, security forces began their west Mosul offensive. Federal police and Rapid Response units fought northward toward Mosul airport, reaching Zakrutiya by the end of the day, Reuters wrote, citing military statements. Helicopters supported the advance, with security forces taking control of two villages south of Albu Seif, PressTV wrote.

The next day, Iraqi forces faced resistance at the village of Albu Seif, The Washington Post reported. Roughly 450 U.S. advisers operated among the Iraqi Troops, according to reports citing U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend. Popular Mobilization fighters took the village of Sahaji, cutting off Tal Afar from west Mosul, according to reports.

Upon establishing positions in Albu Seif, Iraqi forces looked down the hill upon Mosul airport. The airport would serve as a close-support base for the assault on west Mosul, Reuters wrote. The Ghazlani military base, located between the airport and Baghdad-Mosul Highway, would also need to be taken, the report said.

The United Nations refugee agency prepared camps for the 250,000 people estimated to flee west Mosul during the fighting.

Troops with the CTS and Rapid Response division stormed the airport and military complex on Feb. 23, Al-Jazeera reported, citing state TV. Iraqi forces moved into the Mamun neighborhood, experiencing heavy fighting, AP reported. Rapid Response and federal police troops fought in Josaq and started clearing Tayyaran district, Reuters wrote, citing Brig.Gen. Hisham Abdul Kadhim.

Security forces began to move on the Fourth Bridge across the Tigris, intent on repairing it so fresh troops and supplies could come in from east Mosul, Reuters reported on Feb. 26. Security forces pushed into Josaq district and reached the bridge by Monday, according to reports.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units fight Islamic State militants at Al-Hisan as part of the Tal Afar operation. 

Iraqi Army helicopter gunships provide close air support. 

Federal Police and Iraqi Army Aviation combat ISIS in Mosul’s southwest. 

One week into the west Mosul operation, roughly 8,000 civilians had fled, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

By March 1, Iraqi troops advanced within 800 meters of Mosul’s main government complex, AP wrote, citing a source with the Rapid Response units. The next day, Islamic State militants counterattacked across the city’s southwestern districts, Reuters wrote.

Reports emerged of rockets dispensing blistering agents striking civilians in east Mosul.

Federal police and Rapid Response troops attacked Hurriya bridge and nearby government buildings on Monday March 6, according to a Reuters report hosted by The Washington Post. After some additional fighting, the main government building would fall to Iraqi forces, according to reports. Iraqi forces also took the central bank and museum, The New York Times wrote, citing military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.

Islamic State militants launched counterattacks over the coming days, contesting the areas gained by Iraqi forces near the government compound, The Washington Post reported on March 10. Drawing from the ISIS playbook, Iraqi forces began using small commercial drones to detonate explosives upon the militants.

CTS troops fought ISIS in the Mosul al-Jadida and Aghawat districts, Al-Jazeera reported on March 12, citing a CTS source.

Iraqi federal policed killed Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ansary, the Islamic State group’s military commander in Mosul’s Old City, Reuters wrote, citing a police source. His death came during clearing operations in Bab al-Tob district, according to the source.

Iraqi troops pushed to control the Old Bridge, also known as the Iron Bridge or First Bridge, Rudaw reported. They took it by Wednesday, March 15, Al-Jazeera reported.

-Civilian casualties mount

On March 17, an explosion in Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood killed at least more than 200 people, the LA Times reported, citing local officials. The U.S.-led coalition began investigating if one of their airstrikes that did the damage. Other early reports put the casualties somewhere in the 100 to 200 range.

Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi of Iraq’s special forces said his troops called in an airstrike resulting in the civilian casualties, The New York Times reported. His men were unaware of the civilians in the basement, The New York Times cited al-Saadi as saying. Airwaves director Chris Woods said a sharp uptick of civilian casualties occurred after former U.S. President Barack Obama left office, according to The New York Times. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that the rules of engagement had not been loosened, according to the report.

About a week later, the U.S.-led coalition confirmed that Iraqi troops had called in the strike at that location and the U.S. military carried out the strike, but did not confirm casualty numbers, AP reported. The Iraqi government paused the operation after the confirmation by the U.S., Reuters reported. About half a million non-combatants remained in ISIS controlled sections of Mosul, Reuters wrote.

In other incidents, Islamic State militants used civilians as human shields when drawing fire upon their military positions, UN News Centre wrote. This is purportedly done by massing civilians at a fighting position, then provoking a response from anti-ISIS forces.

Later, the investigation concluded a secondary explosion, sparked by a 500-pound GPS-guided bomb GBU-38 bomb, destroyed the building, The LA Times reported.  The GBU-38 bomb would not have had enough power to destroy the structure, but touched off explosives planted by Islamic State militants, according to the report. Iraqi civil defense forces put the final number of dead at 142, according to the LA Times. The Pentagon investigation put that number at 105, The New York Times reported.

-Fight for the Old City begins

Supported by helicopters and mortar fire, Iraqi troops pushed into the Old City toward the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, Reuters wrote. On Sunday, federal police pushed past a train station near the mosque, Reuters reported.

CTS forces took control of Resala district, Press TV reported on March 21. At least five civilians died and 20 were wounded wounded when Islamic State militants shelled Mosul al-Jadida and Rifak districts, Reuters wrote, citing a military source.

On March 23, Mosul Mayor Hussein Ali Khajem said fighting and airstrikes killed more than 150 civilians since Monday, Al-Jazeera reported.

Islamic State militants changed their suicide tactics, switching from vehicles to belts which better suit the Old City’s narrow streets, VOA wrote.

U.S. and Iraqi military sources said the final stages of the battle would be the most difficult, largely due to the cramped quarters of Zanjali district and the Old City, The Washington Post reported.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend described the fighting as “the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II,” USA TODAY reported.

Federal police moved on the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, according to reports.

CTS troops took Maghrib district and fought for control of Aabar and Matahin districts, Xinhua reported on April 6, citing a Joint Operations Command statement.

The Iraqi military paused operations to allow civilians to evacuate, PressTV wrote on April 3. Troops began encountering more foreign fighters on the front lines, VOA wrote, citing a Golden Division source.

Islamic State militants shot down an Iraqi Army helicopter, Reuters reported. The helicopter went down in east Mosul and was the first helicopter downed since the beginning the Mosul offensive, the report said.

Iraqi troops made progress on destroying the ISIS defenses near the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri, Iraqi News wrote, citing a Federal Police source.

Iraqi military officials explained slowed gains around the Old City as an exercise in caution in a report by Rudaw on April 10. Iraqi troops had taken the Yarmouk and Matahin neighborhoods in recent days, Rudaw wrote. But a strategist floated the possibility of opening a new front against ISIS in the north and northwest while leaving the Old City besieged in the meantime, the report said. But this would require additional reinforcements and supplies, according to the strategist.

CTS forces took control of Aabar district on April 13, Xinhua wrote, citing a JOC statement.

U.S. military sources said the coalition continued to support Iraqi infantry from the air, and warned the remaining militants likely have sufficient ammunition to continue the fight for the foreseeable future, Reuters wrote. Dr. Modhar Alomary, who runs a morgue near the fighting, declined to say how many bodies his facility had taken in, Reuters reported.

Federal police seized about 1,000 rockets and 1,000 bags of bomb-making chemicals from an ISIS ammunition depot, PressTV wrote, citing a police source.

An anonymous Iraqi officer said ISIS launched a rocket containing chlorine in the Aabar neighborhood, the Associated Press reported on April 15. The next day, another chemical attack took place, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool told The Associated Press. However, he said an investigation was underway to find what kind of gas the militants used. Anonymous army officers said troops were receiving masks and other equipment to protect from another attack.

Iraqi troops began a fresh attack upon militants in the Old City, Reuters wrote. During clearing operations in Tanak district, CTS forces resucued an 11-year-old Yazidi girl taken as a slave from the village of Kosho, Al-Monitor reported.

CTS troops took the Thaura and Saha areas, Reuters reported, citing statements. The CTS troops also took about 90 percent of Tanak, said the report, citing Shafaaq news agency. Iraqi troops thwarted an attempt by Islamic State militants to infiltrate a federal police command center south of Mosul, Rudaw reported.

Dressed in Iraqi police uniforms, Islamic State fighters killed about 15 civilians who cheered for the apparent arrival of government troops, The New Arab wrote.

Iraqi commanders announced complete control of Tanak neighborhood on April 25, AFP reported. Days later, a U.S. soldier died on patrol outside of Mosul, The Washington Post reported.

Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanmi told state-run newspaper al-Sabah the Mosul operation would be wrapped up by the end of May, reports said.

Security forces made progress in Zanjali district, Iraqi News wrote, citing an Iraqi army source.

-Approach from the north

On May 4, Iraqi forces began a new attack upon Islamic State positions, moving in from the north. Taking ISIS’ northernmost holdings would leave the dense urban terrain of the Old City for last, leaving it encircled.

The fresh effort followed disagreements in mid April between rival arms of Iraqi’s security forces over the accomplishments and contributions of the Counter-Terrorism Service, army and federal police, The New York Times reported.

Three days after the push began, the Iraqi Army announced control of Musharifa area northwest of Mosul, Rudaw wrote. Fighting continued in some of the newly taken areas, Rudaw reported. Reuters also reported signs of continued clashes that weekend.

Security forces captured the western portion of the Northern Industrial Area and the 30 Tammuz area, AFP reported. Heavy fighting took place in Harmat area on May 9, Reuters reported.

CTS forces moved on Ureibi and Rifaie districts in the early morning of May 14, Reuters reported, citing a statement from Joint Operations Command. Army and Emergency Response Division troops assaulted 17 Tammuz district at the same time, the report said.

Iraqi leaders hoped to capture the Great Mosque of al-Nuri before the start of Ramadan on May 27, Reuters wrote. U.S. Col. Patrick Work said the final phase of the battle may be the hardest and declined to give a timeline, according to The Washington Post.

Security forces killed more than 16,000 Islamic State militants since the Mosul operation began in October 2016, Rudaw reported, citing Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool.

Iraqi photographer Ali Arkady published a report detailing abuses by the Ministry of Interior Emergency Response Division. The abuses including killings, rape and torture. The doccumentation prompted the Iraqi government to conduct an investigation into the abuses, The Washington Post reported.

Military engineers finished a floating bridge across the Tigris to aid troop movements before the final assault, Reuters wrote.

On May 26, the Iraqi air force leafleted civilians in the Old City, encouraging them to escape, Reuters reported. The next day, Iraqi troops launched an attack against ISIS remaining pockets around the Old City. Artillery and air power supported the infantry at the onset of the assault. The army attacked Shifaa neighborhood and Republican Hospital, CTS troops moved on Saha neighborhood — which had previously been reported taken — and federal police moved on Zanjali neighborhood, AFP wrote, citing a Joint Operations Command statement.

Residents witnessed Islamic State militants close streets and take up positions around Grand al-Nuri Mosque, according to Al-Jazeera. Fighting continued in neighborhoods north of the Old City.

On June 2, CTS troops took the Saha district after about one week of fighting, according to reports. This left ISIS in control of only Zanjali, the Old City and the medical complex, according to the Reuters report. Fighting continued for Zanjali and Shifaa districts, according to Xinhua.

Following heavy shelling around Zanjali by Iraqi air power, Kurdistan24’s cameras caught footage of white smoke emitting from the shelled area. This raised questions of the possible use of white phosphorous in the strike, according to the report.

While other troops fought in neighborhoods north of the Old City, Iraqi federal police resumed attacks on the Old City from the south, Iraqi News reported. Lt. Gen. Shaker Jawdat said the troops besieged the Bab al-Jadid neighborhood, according to the report.

On June 10, Iraqi federal police recaptured Zanjali and began removing landmines and traps, Xinhua wrote. More than half of Shiffa would be taken by the next day, Iraqi News wrote, citing a quote by Maj. Ali Mohsen of the Iraqi Federal Police. Meanwhile, Iraqi troops pushed toward the medical complex in Shiffa, AP reported.

ISIS fighters counterattacked Iraqi troops in Danadan area south of the Old City, before being pushed back, Reuters wrote. Iraqi forces took control of Bab Sinjar, north of the Old City, reports said. This left only the Medical Complex left before complete encirclement, according to Reuters. Lt. Gen. Shaker Jawdat of the Federal Police said 30 percent of Shiffa was under control of his troops, Iraqi News wrote on June 16.

Between 100,000 and 150,000 civilians remained in ISIS controlled areas, according to reports. Federal police took the medical complex, Kuwait News Agency reported on June 16.

The final push begins

The Iraqi government distributed leaflets over the Old City announcing the beginning of their attack, warning civilians to stay hidden and look for openings to escape, Asharq al-Awsat reported. The Iraqi army estimated that 300 or so ISIS fighters remained in the city, down from 6,000 at the start of the battle, Reuters wrote. The dense buildings and high numbers of trapped civilians limited the use of artillery and airstrikes, according to the report.

While covering the fighting, a mine killed Iraqi journalist Bakhtiyar Haddad and injured three French journalists, Reuters wrote. Franco-Swiss journalist Véronique Robert later died from her injuries, The Guardian reported.

Iraqi army troops captured Shiffa district on June 20, Reuters wrote, citing a military statement. This completed the encirclement of the Old City, according to the report.

CTS forces advanced to within 200-300 meters of Grand al-Nuri Mosque, Reuters reported. Islamic State militants put up stiff resistance, using stealth and concealment to navigate through the densely packed district, according to the report. Roadside bombs and sniper positions also contested the advance of Iraqi troops, Xinhua wrote. Xinhua also reported continued ISIS presence in Shiffa.

On June 21, and explosion destroyed Grand al-Nuri Mosque, reducing it to rubble. Iraqi troops had been closing in on the iconic al-Habda minaret, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first declared the caliphate. The Islamic State’s Amaq Agency blamed U.S. airstrikes for destroying the structure. The Iraqi military released video of the demolition to refute this, which appears to show a controlled explosion.

Days later, Federal Police Commander Raed Shakir Jawdat announced that Iraqi troops recaptured 2/3  of Mosul’s Old City, The Baghdad Post reported. Troops opened corridors for civilians to flee as the fighting raged on, Reuters wrote. Helicopter gunships supported the Iraqi infantry in advancing, according to the report.

In parts of Mosul freed from fighting, civilians celebrated Eid, Reuters reported. Civilians aided in the seizure of an ISIS drone facility in Shiffa neighborhood, BasNews reported.

Islamic State militants dressed as Shiite militiamen counterattacked in Tanak and Yarmouk neighborhoods, slowing the advance of Iraqi Troops, AP reported. The counterattack failed and troops contained the militants in pockets within Tanak, Reuters reported.

CTS forces took Farouq al-Awla neighborhood in the Old City, CNN reported, citing a statement from Staff Lt. Gen. Abdulamir Yarallah. Federal police captured an ISIS medical center in Bab al-Beeb, Iraqi news reported, citing Lt. Gen. Shaker Jawdat. Iraqi forces continued to fight ISIS in Shiffa, the group’s only holding outside of the Old City, Xinhua wrote. Troops continued taking neighborhoods within the Old City, according to reports.

On June 29, Iraqi forces captured the ruins of Great al-Nuri Mosque, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the caliphate following the development, though fighting continued in the city.

In Bab Jidad, Iraqi troops took al-Saa’a Church and Omar al-Aswad mosque, Iraqi News reported. CTS Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi said the fighting could last for four or five more days, and troops would advance on Midan neighborhood along the Tigris next, Reuters wrote. Iraqi troops continued to push in other areas of the Old City.

On July 1, government troops took the Old Bridge across the Tigris, the Arbiaa market and made progress in Shifaa, according to reports. Ahead of the imminent victory, Iraqis got ready to celebrate, Reuters reported.

After breaking ISIS defensive lines, army explosives experts neutralized 72 roadside bombs, Xinhua wrote, citing a JOC statement. The push also opened several corridors, through which 961 civilians escaped, according to the report. As their numbers dwindled, ISIS sent female suicide bombers against the advancing Iraqi forces, AP reported. Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jubouri said the operation would last for two days more, and then the victorious troops would move against ISIS in Tal Afar, Xinhua reported on July 4.

Shifaa remained contested, Xinhua wrote. Anadolu Agency reported the district recaptured on July 5.

An estimated 50 to 100 Islamic State militants counterattacked on July 7, forcing the Iraqi army back about 75 meters, AP reported. The remaining ISIS fighters would be contained in a small area along the Tigris River’s bank, Xinhua reported.

The remaining ISIS fighters pledged to die in Midan district, as government combat missions reached their conclusions, Iraqi News reported. Lt. Gen. Abdul Ghani al-Assadi said 100 or fewer militants remained in the city, The Baghdad Post reported.

On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came to Mosul to congratulate the Iraqi people on the victory, Iraqi News reported. Clashes continued in parts of the city and Abadi would not make a formal victory speech until the fighting subsided, The New York Times reported. Abadi left the city that day without giving a victory speech, The Baghdad post reported.

Abadi announced the liberation of Mosul from the Old City the following day.

Many questions are yet to be answered with the government’s victory assured. How will Mosul be restored and who will pay for it? How long will it take to push ISIS out of its remaining holdings in Iraq, and how can a lasting insurgency be prevented? How will the government in Baghdad regain the trust of the Sunni minority in northern Iraq in the wake of widespread destruction and allegations of abuses, thus preventing the reemergence of violent extremism? What future awaits the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people? Will the common struggle against the Islamic State militants forge a national identity strong enough to keep Iraq unified, and is unification in the best interests of all the people of Iraq?

Only time will answer these questions. But July 9, 2017, is a day of celebration for all those who struggled against ISIS.

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