THE ASSAULT on the Iraqi city of Mosul has begun, with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announcing in a televised address in the early hours of Monday: ‘The hour of victory has come. Today I declare the start of the heroic operations to liberate you from Daesh.’
Artillery began firing on the city early on Monday. Tanks are now moving towards the city, which has been held by IS since 2014. Many thousands of Islamic State fighters are dug in. They communicate with each other through tunnels and are expected to fight to the last man.
The coalition includes about 30,000 Iraqi forces, including Shia militias, 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and an ‘allied force’ comprised of the US, UK and other western powers.
Although the Tories have previously insisted that the UK will have ‘no combat troops on the ground’ in Iraq, a week ago it was reported that UK Troops from the British infantry and SAS have been kitted out with chemical warfare equipment to join the battle for Mosul.
The MoD insist that any UK troops in Iraq are there strictly in a ‘training capacity’ and will not be on the front line. The US claims its ‘Special Operations personnel’ are only in Iraq ‘advising forces on the ground’.
The UN is worried that large numbers of civilians could get killed or injured in the course of the assault. Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, warned: ‘We could be seeing a situation where there are tens of thousands of families trapped inside of Mosul. In a worst case scenario they could be used by ISIL as human shields, there could be a situation where families are forced to flee, they are literally expelled.
‘We expect that they will be at extreme risk of sniper fire. We know that large parts of the city are probably booby trapped. There are many, many factors that could impact on civilians putting them at extreme risk, we are very worried.’
Meanwhile it has been reported that before the assault began the US and Saudi Arabia made an agreement to allow 9,000 IS fighters to leave Mosul for eastern Syria to reinforce the anti-Assad forces.
The plan is said to involve these forces launching an offensive to take Dier ez-Zouer and Palmyra. Dier ez-Zouer is the site of the recent air attack by the US army in which over 80 Syrian soldiers were killed, giving IS a major advantage in the area.