Iraq Prime Minister has launched a campaign to retake Mosul, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State, which the United States suggests would give “a lasting defeat” to the militants.
“Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address, with an alternative name for the IS group. “We will meet soon on the ground of Mosul to celebrate liberation and your salvation,” he added surrounded by the armed forces’ top commanders.
Mosul is the largest city that Islamic State has controlled and its last major stronghold in Iraq. Islamic State came to the city two years before, where the leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed from Mosul’s Grand Mosque a “caliphate” in Iraq and neighboring Syria, which makes these an Islamic state with himself its absolute ruler.
Al-Jazeera reported a video showing bombardment of Mosul that started after Abadi’s speech, showing rockets and bursts of tracer bullets across the night sky and loud sounds of gunfire.
This movement is said to be one of the biggest military operations in Iraq since 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the biggest mounted by the Iraqi government since US military forces withdrew in 2011.
The assault on Mosul, with a population of 1.5 million, is backed by the US-led coalition, which is providing air and ground support.
According to the reports, the assault has long been predicted as the anti-IS alliance- including the US-led coalition, Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces – has recently been tightening the noose around Mosul. But they will have to fight their way through IS defences to reach the city. Some groups are still dozens of kilometres from Mosul, reports added.
When they get there, the fighting is expected to be fierce. About 30,000 troops were expected to take part from the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga militia and Sunni tribal fighters, while estimates of Islamic State forces in the city range from 4,000 to 8,000.
Media has reported that Shiite militia groups have been accused of serious abuses against Sunni civilians in the course of operations to reconquer territory from IS. Therefore, local Sunni politicians and regional Sunni-majority states including Turkey and Saudi Arabia have cautioned that letting Shi’ite militias take part in assault could spark sectarian violence. PM assured only local forces would be involved in the battle.
The Iraqi army dropped tens of thousands of leaflets over Mosul before dawn on Sunday, warning residents that the offensive to recapture the city was imminent.The leaflets carried several messages, one of them assuring the population that advancing army units and air strikes “will not target civilians” and another telling them to avoid known locations of Islamic State militants. The leaflets told residents “to stay at home and not to believe rumours spread by Daesh” that could cause panic, media reported.
United Nations voiced its fears claiming that vastly outnumbered Islamists could use the general population as they seek to repel the assault on its last major stronghold in the country. The UN last week said it was bracing for the world’s biggest and most complex humanitarian effort in the battle for the city, which could make up to 1 million people homeless and see civilians used as human shields or even gassed.
UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien in a statement called for protection of Mosul’s civilians, urging all parties to “ensure they have access to the assistance they are entitled to and deserve.” Children and elderly are among those at greatest risk, he believes.