The Iraqi army’s offensive to liberate Mosul from ISIS has achieved its first important success, with confirmation that after 12 weeks of gruelling fighting Iraqi troops have finally reached the Tigris river.
The Iraqis also claim that their troops are present in 35 of the 47 residences of Mosul which lie east of the Tigris river.
ISIS however remains in control of the heavily populated areas of western Mosul beyond the Tigris, and it is clear that despite repeated claims to the contrary the city is not yet surrounded and ISIS’s troops are not trapped there. It seems that an entirely separate operation will be needed to capture the western districts of Mosul beyond the Tigris, which in turn means that months of heavy fighting lie ahed.
Moreover it seems that in the fighting in Mosul in November alone the Iraqi army suffered at least 2,000 dead, a rate of loss which the US is supposedly concerned that it cannot sustain. If so then once Mosul eastern of the Tigris is finally liberated, the Iraqi army may have to pause its offensive to liberate the city in order to reinforce and regroup.
It is clear that early hopes that ISIS would abandon Mosul were misplaced, and that the will of ISIS’s leader, Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (“the Caliph Ibrahim”) has prevailed, and that as predicted ISIS is defending itself in the city skilfully and fanatically.
On the subject of Al-Baghdadi, there continues to be uncertainty as to his whereabouts. However reports have recently appeared that he has appointed three successors, and that he regularly sleeps with a suicide belt.
If these reports are true (and it is possible that they are true, and that their source is radio intercepts) then they are a very strong sign that he expects to die soon, in which case earlier reports that he is actually in Mosul – the city where he declared himself Caliph – may be true after all, in which case he appears to be personally leading ISIS’s resistance in the city.
Al-Baghdadi’s motives would in that case be similar to Hitler’s when he chose to remain in Berlin in the last weeks of the war. Just as Hitler felt that his prestige and authority as Nazi Germany’s Führer was bound up with his staying in Berlin (the “Reichshauptstadt”) so Al-Baghdadi presumably feels that his prestige and authority as “Caliph” is bound up with his remaining in Mosul.
In that case then just as Hitler’s presence in Berlin undoubtedly stiffened German resistance in the city against the Red Army – prolonging the battle of Berlin by several weeks – so Al-Baghdadi’s presence in Mosul will almost certainly make ISIS’s resistance in Mosul more determined and fanatical, prolonging the siege further and causing still more death and destruction.