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The Battle for Mosul

The latest on the Iraqi military’s efforts to retake the city from ISIS.

A member of Iraqi rapid-response forces fires a rocket launcher during a battle on January 18 with ISIS militants in Mosul, Iraq. Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters

Iraqi forces and their allies launched their operation to retake Mosul from ISIS last October.

ISIS seized Mosul in June 2014, and the city, Iraq’s second-largest, is the group’s most-prized asset in Iraq. As Iraqi forces turn their attention to the Sunni-dominated, ISIS-controlled parts of the city west of the Tigris, we’ll follow the developments.

All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).

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Further Reading on Mosul

The battle for Mosul began in earnest in October, and we’ve been reporting and writing about it since then. Here are some of our stories:

If ISIS Loses Mosul, What Then?

Michael Knights, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told my colleague Siddhartha Mahanta:

Every time ISIS has been defeated in Mosul, it has reemerged as a mafia-type network. It assassinates and intimidates people who have control of financial resources, like the people running the gold markets or mobile-telephone operators or the people running the real-estate department in the city, and then it slowly amasses money and influence, and then it comes back stronger than before. What we need in Mosul is a counter-organized crime effort supported by international intelligence and police forces. We need to help the Iraqis to finally destroy ISIS in the city by finally destroying their mafia-style organized-crime networks. If we do this, we break the chain of events that inevitably leads to an ISIS resurgence in Mosul.

How the Islamic State Is Spinning the Mosul Battle

Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, wrote:

While its official media team conceded that the group had faced a large attack near Mosul on Monday morning, that was about all its propaganda shared with the mainstream news narrative. Indeed, while the peshmerga were counting up their captured kilometers at the end of the first day, the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency was claiming that the reports were all false, and that it had, contrary to the lies peddled by the “crusader” media, managed to “absorb the momentum” of the encroaching forces before subsequently “repelling” them.

On the second and third days of the operation—dubbed “Qadimun Ya Naynawa” (“We Are Coming, Nineveh”) by Abadi—the propagandists seemed to grow more measured in their denialism. While they continued to challenge the coalition narrative, branding the Islamic State as the aggressor in a fusillade of propaganda (in 72 hours, the group released 69 operation claims, videos, and photo reports regarding Mosul), they also began to acknowledge some of the inroads being made by the coalition.

That all changed with the publication of the Islamic State’s newspaper on day four of the operation.

Between ISIS and Airstrikes

I spoke to Patrick Osgood, the Kurdistan bureau chief of Iraq Oil Report, a news organization that has reporters in all of Iraq’s provinces and contacts in all its major cities. Osgood told me that “a lot of people have managed to get out” of Mosul. But “the vast majority simply cannot.” Here’s more:

Osgood said the “left bank [of Mosul] is mostly depopulated,” referring to the area east of the Tigris River that has traditionally been more ethnically diverse, comprising Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmens, and others. “The right bank has a very, very high proportion” of people left. This area is mostly Sunni, and the population, angry at the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, initially welcomed ISIS. Consequently, the Islamic State is focusing its attention on defending the right bank and has “largely abandoned the left bank,” Osgood said.

In the right bank, he said, ISIS is “sending younger and younger kids to go out and maintain law and order” and spy on the local population, and there has been “a record ramp-up in mass arrests and executions.” But, Osgood said, there is also increased disorder and public disagreements—often deadly—among ISIS militants on whether to flee the city or fight until the end.

Iraqi Forces Retake Mosul Airport

Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, have captured Mosul airport from the Islamic state, which seized Iraq’s second-largest city in 2014, Iraqi TV reported Thursday. The airport is located in western Mosul, an ISIS stronghold. Government forces and their allies captured eastern Mosul last month. The capture of the airport and areas surrounding would give Iraqi force control of roads west of Mosul. The Associated Press adds that foreign troops were present during the operation; it did not specify their nationalities. About 750,000 civilians still live in western Mosul, the UN estimates.