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Iraq army attacks ISIS in Mosul as US Defense Secretary Mattis flies in

The Iraqi government on Sunday 19th February 2017 launched the second stage of its campaign to liberate Mosul – Iraq’s second largest city – from ISIS.

The initial target of the offensive is Mosul’s airport.  Al-Jazeera has published a dramatic account of the early stages of the battle, which includes this evocative phrase

The sky south of Mosul was black with smoke from air strikes and artillery as thousands of forces in armoured convoys worked converged on the airport.

The attack was accompanied by the mass dropping of leaflets on ISIS controlled western Mosul calling on ISIS fighters to lay down their arms and the civilian population to welcome the Iraqi troops.

In reality a bitter battle to liberate the western part of the city of Mosul lies ahead.  Not only is ISIS deeply entrenched there but contrary to earlier reports it is now clear that some ISIS fighters are still resisting in eastern Mosul on the other side of the Tigris river, which after months of heavy fighting has still not been fully secured by the Iraqi troops.

To add to the difficulties, it seems that some parts of the civilian population of western Mosul actually support ISIS, and that despite repeated claims to the contrary the western part of the city is still not fully surrounded, so that ISIS fighters in Mosul are still able to get reinforcements and supplies.

Liberating Mosul from ISIS is however essential if the organisation is to be finally defeated.  Mosul is by far the biggest city to have fallen under ISIS’s control.  It was its capture in 2014 that transformed the organisation from a mere Al-Qaeda breakaway into the most powerful Jihadi movement in the world, and which made it possible for it to declare its caliphate.

Precisely for that reason ISIS will however defend itself in Mosul fanatically, and its leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (‘the Caliph Ibrahim’) will insist on nothing less.

As US President Trump makes defeating ISIS and “wiping Islamic terrorism off the face of the earth” his foreign policy priority, it is no coincidence that his Defense Secretary – General Mattis – visited the Iraqi capital Baghdad on the day after the start of the offensive against ISIS in Mosul.

In part Mattis’s intention was to reassure the Iraqis that the US – which is giving vital military and logistical support to the Iraqi offensive – is not after Iraq’s oil.  This follows an unfortunate comment of President Trump’s, who said directly after his inauguration that

We (the US – AM) should have taken the oil. You wouldn’t have ISIS if we took the oil.

Not surprisingly, in light of this comment, General Mattis went out of his way before he left for Baghdad to reassure the Iraqis that the US is not in fact after their oil.

We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.

General Mattis will no doubt also have had to give the Iraqis reassurances about the meaning and purpose of President Trump’s ‘travel ban’ Executive Order.

However the main purpose of his visit – as he said himself – was to familiarise himself with the military picture at the start of the offensive against ISIS in Mosul

….because I need to get current on the situation there, the political situation, the enemy situation and the friendly situation

General Mattis’s trip to Baghdad was not announced in advance, which suggests it was arranged in a hurry.  Though General Mattis was only in Baghdad for a short time, it is a certainty that whilst he was there he would have asked some hard questions of his Iraqi hosts, and that he will be preparing a detailed report of his discussions with them for the President when he returns to Washington.

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