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Monday, November 14

Battle of Mosul: Iraqi Troops Outwitted, Outplayed by Islamic State

This report yesterday from FARS has some good news. But I see no good or even hopeful news in Patrick Cockburn's sitrep, also published yesterday, at the Independent. Here is his report:

Iraqi troops are getting bogged down in Mosul – Could it spark the first crisis for President Trump?

The Iraqi armed forces are becoming bogged down in the battle for Mosul. Its elite special forces and an armoured division are fighting to hold districts in the eastern outskirts of the city against counter-attacks by Isis fighters using networks of tunnels to move about unseen.

“In one day we lost 37 dead and 70 wounded,” said a former senior Iraqi official, adding that the Iraqi forces had been caught by surprise by the extent of the tunnel system built by Isis, said to be 45 miles long.

The Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and the Ninth Armoured Division have been trying for two weeks to fight their way into that part of Mosul city, east of the Tigris River.

Isis is sending waves of suicide bombers either as individuals who blow themselves up or in vehicles packed with explosives, snipers and mortar teams, to restart the fighting in a dozen districts that the Iraqi Army had said were already captured.

“At first I was optimistic that we might capture Mosul in two or three weeks, but I now believe it will take months,” said Khasro Goran, a senior Kurdish leader familiar with conditions in Mosul, in an exclusive interview with The Independent.

He said he had changed his mind about the likely length of the siege when he witnessed the ferocity of the fighting in the outer defences of Mosul. He added that “if they [Isis] continue fighting like this then a lot of Mosul will be destroyed. I hope it will not be like Aleppo.”

A prolonged siege of Mosul with heavy civilian casualties and the possibility of Turkish military intervention is likely to be the first international crisis to be faced by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump. The slow and heavily-contested advance of the Iraqi armed forces into the city means that the attack will still be going on when he is inaugurated in Washington on 20 January.

Mr Trump would have to decide if he is willing to sanction an escalation in US-led airstrikes to destroy Isis defences, though this would inevitably lead to heavy loss of life among the estimated 1.5 million civilians in Mosul.

A threatened military intervention by Turkey will also become more likely if the best Iraqi combat units suffer heavy losses and look for reinforcements from the Shia paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Under an American-brokered agreement, these are being kept out of the city of Mosul itself to avoid sectarian and ethnic tensions between them and its Sunni Arab population.

Turkey has sent tanks to the Turkish-Iraqi border and said it may invade if the Hashd or Peshmerga fight inside Mosul.

The problem for the Iraqi armed forces is that they have previously relied heavily on US-led airstrikes to destroy Isis fighters in fixed positions. There have been 10,300 such airstrikes in Iraq since 2014.

In the battle for Ramadi in 2015 some 70 per cent of the city was destroyed, but almost all of the 350,000 population had fled and Isis did not fight to the last man. The same was true of the outer ring of towns around Mosul like Bartella and Qaraqosh a dozen more miles from the city, which were empty of their largely Christian inhabitants, making it easier to target and destroy from the air buildings held by Isis.

The same tactics cannot be used in Mosul because its people are still there and the city is very big. The Baghdad government offensive that began on 17 October went well until it reached Mosul’s outskirts two weeks ago.

Since then the fighting has swung backwards and forwards with districts being captured or recaptured three or four times.

In al-Qadisiyah al-Thaniya district, which the CTS had entered on Friday, the elite soldiers later retreated and Isis fighters returned. A local resident told a news agency that “they came back to us again, and this is what we feared. At night there were fierce clashes and we heard powerful explosions.”

In Intisar, another embattled east Mosul district, the Iraqi army’s Ninth Armoured Division has found that its tanks are vulnerable in street fighting for which its soldiers have neither experience nor training. Last Tuesday it lost two T-72 tanks.

There were some signs of Isis disarray at the start of the siege. Hoshyar Zebari, the former Iraqi Finance and Foreign Minister, says that by far “the biggest surprise for Isis was some months back when the Iraqi government and the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) agreed on a joint offensive against Isis in Mosul.” Isis did not expect this – Baghdad and the KRG had previously been barely on speaking terms because of economic and territorial disputes.

When Iraqi forces first attacked east Mosul, there were reports of wavering morale among some Isis fighters, but the Isis leadership has mercilessly enforced its control.

The UN says that [Isis] has executed some 70 civilians in Mosul accused of collaboration with Iraqi forces over the last week. Last Tuesday alone 40 people were dressed in orange jumpsuits and shot for “treason and collaboration” before being hanged from electricity poles.

Another 20 civilians have been shot for using mobile phones to leak information to the Iraqi army and their bodies were hanged at traffic lights.

The real level of support for Isis in Mosul is unclear. The 54,000 people who have fled the city and sought refuge behind Peshmerga or Iraqi army lands all express their hatred of movement and deplore its atrocities.

But local Christians and Kurds view the displaced civilians from Isis with suspicion as possible covert Isis supporters. “I see that Isis are getting their families to safety,” said one Christian driving past a camp of white tents occupied by Internally Displaced People (IDPs) at Khazar, east of Mosul.

Mr Goran is an expert on the internal politics of Mosul where he was deputy governor between 2003 and 2009, and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the city until 2011. Speaking of the political sympathies of its people, he said that “a third of the population supports Isis, much of the rest is passive and only a small percentage actively resisted them.”

He believes that reports of extensive anti-Isis armed resistance inside the city was largely propaganda designed for the media. He pointed out that there might be a lot of foreign fighters in Mosul, but “the majority of fighters are Iraqis”.



Mosul has made its choice.

"The same tactics cannot be used in Mosul because its people are still there and the city is very big." - Wrong.

Leveling it is the answer. Not wasting Infantry.

There are no innocents in Mosul. Nor is guilt or innocence particularly an issue in war. That's the courtroom or God. Not our problem.

See Sri Lanka. Wars should be bought to conclusion, to Victory. If they want to die help them but don't retard resolution. See Sri Lanka and Sareth Fonseka.

If this outrages you then see all of history, and war. The American Civil War is instructive as was our bomber campaigns in WW2.

Mosul made its choice and can suffer the consequences.
The US played no part in creating the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka; it played a large role in the Sunni insurgency in Iraq that led to Islamic State and in consequence support for IS among many Iraqi Sunnis. The latter believed they faced complete destruction from the Iranian-backed Shiites with any few survivors being forced into exile; every action by the Iraqi government shored that belief.

Strategically as well there is a vast difference between the Tamil insurgent response to military action and Islamic State's in Mosul. Tunnel building has been "the" central IS strategy, which the Tamils never used. Ditto for residents of Dresden and other cities heavily bombed in WW2. Ditto for Civil War battles.

The US forces made a huge mistake in underestimating the vast tunnel complexes built by IS and in not appreciating their strategic value. While not an entirely new form of warfare IS took it to a new level. I've seen a report that they were actually using 'Big Bertha' tunneling machines in addition to the slave labor to create the complex. They built a virtual city underneath Mosul that they stocked for a siege of indefinite length. In this, by the way, they were extending on tunnels built by smugglers after Saddam's fall that are just outside Mosul and lead to Syria.

The US/Iraqis were simply not prepared for this kind of warfare.

And realize that the Iraqis they used to dig the tunnels have no idea where the tunnels are, except in a few cases; they were taken to and from the sites blindfolded. So that leaves out pouring gasoline into the tunnels and setting it on fire, as the Egyptian Army did a year or two ago to rout Hamas from a complex of tunnels it had built. First they have to find the tunnels, but it seems IS has honeycombed the land underneath the city. Like a bunch of termites from hell.

Now if I read this correctly, and if Cockburn's sources are right, the IS strategy is exactly what you're talking about although not with the same emphasis. They are going to very deliberately force the Iraqi/Us-led coalition to level the city. They seem to have the ability to do this because of the tunnel warrens.

If that's actually what's happening, it's a Mexican standoff. The US coalition isn't going to bomb tens of thousands of civilians, and I question whether the Iraqi troops even have the wherewithal to do that, even with Kurdish help. That would leave Turkish forces to do the dirty work, which Iraq's government is dead set against.

But they can bomb all they want, and kill only civilians, leaving the major IS force intact underground.

So this is quite a good-bye present Obama has handed Trump and the generals he'll be relying on.

Of course all the above is Monday morning quarterbacking. They had no idea until it was too late how skilled IS was at tunneling, and the importance IS gave to it.

The only hope I see at this point is that it's not quite as bad as Cockburn's sources have reported it. If they are on the money --

It's possible that IS doesn't plan to make Mosul a last stand; that they'll gradually remove fighters via the tunnels in the same way they got them into Mosul -- in very small groups, until there's just a small force to keep making a big racket to hold off discovery that most fighters have flown the coop. Gone to Afghanistan, Libya, Sinai, Europe, etc.

We'll see. One thing can be counted on. They've had plenty of time to do a lot of thinking, a lot of planning. And as Trump pointed out, their opponents telegraphed their moves far in advance.

Headline from RT this morning:

"ISIS brainwashed 400,000 kids in Mosul to fight, carry out suicide attacks – report"

I haven't read the report and probably won't.
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