Though the battle against ISIS for Mosul – Iraq’s second city – has taken much longer than most people expected, it appears that the battle for Mosul may be finally drawing to an end.
News yesterday spoke of significant advances by the Iraqi army in western Mosul, with the Iraqi army finally reaching Mosul’s Old City, which however is still controlled by ISIS. More reports today speak of Iraqi troops entering Mosul’s Old City, and capturing an area in its northern part.
With ISIS’s fighters in Mosul now reduced to controlling a small area of the city – including the Old City – it is likely that ISIS’s final collapse in Mosul is just days or at the most weeks away.
Moreover since the ISIS fighters defending Mosul – probably by now no more than a few hundred – seem to be completely surrounded with no route to escape, and since the Iraqi military seem to be in no mood to let them escape, it is likely that when the remaining part of Mosul is finally liberated all of them will be dead.
There has been no previous occasion of a mass surrender to the ‘apostate’ authorities by Jihadi fighters either in Iraq or Syria, and I am sure it will not happen in Mosul. I am also sure the Iraqi authorities don’t expect it.
The liberation of Mosul from ISIS will be a less decisive victory than at one time seemed likely. Had ISIS abandoned Mosul in October as many expected, or had the Iraqi army succeeded in liberating Mosul more quickly, the blow to ISIS of losing what is by far the biggest and most historic city to have fallen under its control and where its leader, the man known as Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, proclaimed the Caliphate, would have been devastating.
Instead ISIS successfully withdrew most of its heavy equipment from Mosul – including its tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery – whilst the small number of fighters left behind to fight for the city have put up a resistance which has held up the Iraqi army for 8 months despite the fact that they have been for most of that time surrounded, and have been outnumbered by (according to most estimates) a ratio of almost ten to one.
ISIS’s well-oiled propaganda machine will have no difficulty passing this off as the heroic resistance of Muslims fighting for their Caliph against the ‘apostate’ hordes, and to the sort of people susceptible to this sort of propaganda the ‘defence of Mosul’ will no doubt soon acquire a legendary quality, much as ISIS’s original ‘liberation of Mosul’ back in 2014 then did.
Meanwhile ISIS’s successful withdrawal of its heavy equipment from Mosul means that the liberation of the city will not be the major blow to the organisation’s military capabilities that once looked likely.
If the final victory over ISIS in Mosul looks to be less decisive than once looked likely, in one other respect the battle for Mosul should fill one with concern.
Mosul is widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful cities of the Middle East, with scores of old mosques and buildings, and with a largely intact Old City largely consisting of elegant Arab houses and palaces built during the Ottoman period.
ISIS has already done considerable damage to Mosul’s monuments, but the destruction that may be about to follow in the fight for the Old City could be devastating.
One way or the other ISIS has exacted a terrible price on Mosul and its people. Once the city is finally liberated from its control the focus should be on doing everything possible to prevent it from ever returning there.