Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Purging ISIL

"The primary finding from a circuitous 500 kilometre road journey that began east of Mosul near the Tigris River, then looped north and west through dozens of heavily armed checkpoints to within metres of the Syrian border was that tangible progress is finally being made in purging ISIL from Iraq, but it has become a savage war of attrition."
Matthew Fisher, journalist, National Post
Map showing territory recaptured by government forces around the Iraqi city of Mosul

Bombs and missiles continue to strike Iraq's second-largest city. Successive waves of Iraqi and coalition warplanes streak across the sky dropping their deadly payloads. Their shrieking passage heard, but unseen. Islamic State finds itself with a shrinking caliphate. But its zeal in committing itself to preserving what it yet can of its possessions is unabated.

And it had spent much energy and resources to its defense, re-creating a city of normalcy pre-occupation into one capable of withstanding a withering siege.

And a siege it is, with Iraqi regime forces, Kurdish militias, Iranian-devout Shiite militias on the ground, while air power provided by the regime, backed up by the U.S. hammers the jihadists from above and hem it in all around Mosul. Bordering Mosul are scores of towns that have been pounded into rubble. The Iraqi capital Baghdad, and the Kurdish capital of Erbil have absorbed legions of wounded and the dead in hospitals and mortuaries.

There are a million Iraqi civilians in the area of the conflict. And the situation is not entirely unlike the crisis that developed in Aleppo.  How the bombing is taking place without placing residents of Mosul and nearby towns in immediate peril is yet unknown. Syria's Bashar al-Assad certainly didn't mind the wholesale casualties his barrel-bombing had created in east Aleppo, and nor did the Kremlin appear too disturbed over accusations it had committed war crimes deliberately bombing hospitals and medical clinics in Aleppo, but doing likewise in Mosul would bruise both Iraq and the U.S.

Having lost Fallujah and Ramadi and Sinjar and Bashiqa, no doubt ISIL is particularly anxious to retain Mosul. They are no longer able to take advantage of the route they have used west of Mosul to be resupplied by their Syrian contingents, since Shia militias have now established a firm blockade in that area. Constant, street-by-street fighting is furiously underway in the city. ISIL counter-attacked, leading the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service to order troops withdrawal to an eastern suburb of the city, enabling ISIL to retake an area it had lost weeks ago, heavy casualties resulting on both sides.

Satellite map showing barricades in Mosul city

Twelve kilometres east of Mosul is the town of Bartella where most of the houses, churches and mosques of the mostly Christian town are riddled with booby traps and landmines. Buildings are covered with boastful graffiti lauding the purity and eternal presence of Islam, elevated and esteemed by its loyal fighters. This town is now the staging ground for the final conflict leading to the rousting of Islamic State and the restoration of the region to Iraqi government rule.

Matthew Fisher/Postmedia
Matthew Fisher/Postmedia     A severely damaged church in the liberated town of Bartella, 12 kilometres from still besieged Mosul.
Discovered in Mosul in areas taken by the military were huge caches of materials for improvised explosive devices. But the real eye-opener was the discovery of tunnelling machines obviously designed and manufactured for mining operations. Two metres in width, the machines with their giant bores helped to create subterranean passages woven under Mosul and surrounding towns to enable fighters to take shelter from airstrikes.

They were also enabled to cover ground by motorcycle underground, popping up behind Iraqi and Kurdish lines in surprise attacks.

Even though ISIL has been hemmed in and is being forced to defend itself against obviously superior force numbers it has not set aside its penchant for atrocities. Indulging in burying, burning or bulldozing those who fall into their hands, continuing to earn their reputation for brutalizing viciousness. ISIL fighters' embrace of martyrdom appears not to have diminished one iota, sending waves of suicide bombers in improvised armoured cars in attacks against coalition forces.

The combined force of Iraqi, Kurdish, coalition troops along with Shia, Sunni, Christian and tribal militias have tightened their grip around Islamic State; matching the motivation of ISIL with that of their own, to destroy the menace that has threatened to turn Iraq and Syria into a charnel house of guts and blood in the name of Islam. For this purpose, at least, factions, sectarianism and tribal antipathies have been set aside to achieve a common goal.

Once that has eventually come to fruition, it is anyone's guess how the competing interests and goals will decide between themselves how the territory will be apportioned, and whether or how conflict can be set aside, at least for the near foreseeable future. Before another iteration of Shiite or Sunni imperialist theism rears its rapacious head and revels in building a reputation for itself as a fearsome source of barbaric viciousness.

(Photo: Screenshot from the video)
(Photo: Screenshot from the video of two Turkish soldiers burned alive by ISIL)

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