A military operation to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from so-called Islamic State (IS) has begun. The long-awaited assault from Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi government and allied forces is backed by the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq.
“Today I declare the start of the heroic operations to liberate you from Daesh,” he said, using another name for IS.
About 30,000 pro-government troops are involved in the operation. The main assault is being led by Iraqi special forces army troops based south of Mosul. About 4,000 Kurdish peshmerga militia have begun clearing villages in the east. Sunni tribal fighters and Shia-led paramilitary forces are also due to take part. Planes from the US-led coalition against IS are providing air support.
Convoys of Iraqi special forces, Kurdish and U.S. forces moved east of Mosul along the front line early Monday as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes sent plumes of smoke into the air and heavy artillery rounds rumbled in the distance.
“God willing we will meet in Mosul to celebrate the liberation and your salvation from Isis (IS) so we can live together once again, all religions united and together we shall defeat Daesh to rebuild this dear city of Mosul.”
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under IS control since June 2014.
The city was one of Iraq’s most diverse, comprising ethnic Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmens, as well as a variety of religious minorities.
Now Mosul is the group’s last major stronghold in Iraq. The loss of the city, officials say, would mark the effective defeat of IS in the country.
In a battle that military officials and security analysts predict could take months rather than weeks, the urban terrain offers advantages to an enemy that has had many months to prepare for the expected assault. Tunnels designed both as staging posts for attacks and as escape routes, booby traps and built-up areas ideal for ambushes and suicide attacks are among likely factors as the offensive progresses.
The fate of more than a million civilians trapped inside Mosul will also be critical as the battle intensifies in the days and weeks ahead amid concerns that IS could use them as human shields. The UN has expressed “extreme concern” for the safety of up to 1.5 million people in the area.