Daesh’s leadership flees as the Iraqi army pushes to regain the city
The policy to fight militant group Daesh in Iraq and Syria was a key part of the third and last U.S. presidential debate, held in Las Vegas on October 19. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made fun of the ample public warning given over the past few weeks, if not months, to Daesh’s leadership ahead of the military offensive to retake Mosul, the largest Daesh-held city in Iraq.
For Trump, announcing the offensive ahead of time repeatedly allowed Daesh’s leadership to move out of the city, thus proving an ineffective operation.
Though most of Trump’s antics have garnered laughter from not only Americans, but also the world, yet the logic in his statement can only push forward this question: Was he right about the Mosul offensive?
In the wee hours of October 17, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi announced the launch of the biggest military campaign led by the Iraqi army, aided by a U.S.-led coalition and flanked by pro-government paramilitary fighters with one aim: to regain Nineveh, the second largest province in the country in terms of population size, the capital city of which is Mosul.
As part of the preparations, Baghdad dropped nearly eight million leaflets on Mosul beforehand, informing the residents of the intended offensive, calming them and asking them to cooperate with the security forces who would be fighting nearby.
At the same time, several radio stations were nested in nearby liberated towns and villages to broadcast the latest updates by the hour about the ongoing battle.
“We asked people to stay home and if it is necessary, to avoid being around Daesh’s headquarters, as this is the best way to be safe,” a senior Iraqi military officer involved in the offensive, tells Newsweek Middle East.
“We have been encouraging them to provide us with the required intelligence information on Daesh and its operatives,” he adds.
The rhythm of the fighting picked up with dozens of villages located on the outskirts of Mosul, liberated, according to Colonel Mohammed Al Baidhani, a spokesperson of Nineveh military operations the government moved to strengthen telecommunication and broadcast signals covering Mosul.
This allowed for news from inside the city to smoothly filter through to the outside world.
Somewhat of a surprise to many of his followers and Mosul residents alike, Daesh’s top leader and currently the most wanted terrorist in the world, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, was the first to flee the city and head towards the Syrian border city of Raqqa, despite his vows to fight on.
“Our intelligence revealed that he (Baghdadi) fled to Raqqa but his leaders remain inside Mosul,” a senior Iraqi military intelligence source tells Newsweek Middle East on the condition of anonymity.
The news has been confirmed by Mosul residents, whom Newsweek Middle East managed to contact, though there was a circulating rumor that Al Baghdadi had showed up in Bab Al Tub—the busiest public market in central Mosul—shortly after the offensive started, to supervise the execution of one of his leaders who, according to Mosul resident Rachel” was selling weapons without the organization’s permission.” Rachel, not her real name, spoke with Newsweek Middle East via telephone.
According to her, other residents inside Mosul, as well as local and federal security Iraqi officials, most of Daesh’s leaders—specifically the Iraqi fighters within Daesh—“are still in Mosul, and they have been acting as if everything is normal.”
However, this “normality” does not include the fighters’ families.
“Some of them [Daesh leaders] moved their families and their furniture from the left side of Mosul to the right side, others have moved their families completely out of Mosul,” says Zaha, another resident.
Speaking with Newsweek Middle East via telephone, Zaha adds: “They [Daesh’s families] were sent to Raqqa.”
ON THE GROUND
Mosul was the first city in the province to fall into the hands of Daesh militants on June 10, 2014 after the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi military troops, the largest military scandal to hit the Iraqi army in recent history.
The rest of the towns and cities in Nineveh, most of which were Sunni Arab towns, soon followed suit, falling one after the other until most of the province came under Daesh control.
Mosul is divided by the River Tigris into two parts; the left side is smaller than its right section, and is bordered by the town of Qiyara, 60 km to the South.
Qiyara was recently liberated by the Iraqi security forces, and has been turned into a military base for the Iraqi army and security forces to launch their offensive against the group inside Mosul.
The right part of the city is bordered by the town of Ba’aj, 100 kms to the West.
Ba’aj, which is a border town between Iraq and Syria, is also known to be the home of Daesh’s most senior leadership and hosts the group’s control centers in Iraq and Syria.
Transferring the leaders of Daesh from the left section of Mosul to the right would make their movement easier if they decided to flee the city altogether going forward, according to military analysts.
During the aforementioned U.S. presidential debate, Trump’s rival, Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton vowed to hit the group hard in Iraq, follow it to Syria and liberate Raqqa from Daesh’s control.
According to Newsweek Middle East’s military sources, Clinton’s policy on how to fight Daesh in Mosul was the choice of the Iraqi officials.
The sources explain that both concerned parties, the U.S. and Iraq, were keen on leaking information about the expected dates of the military offensive to retake Mosul, weeks ahead of the real timing.
According to one source, this gave the leaders and fighters of Daesh an opportunity to leave the city.
“They [U.S. and Iraqi officials] had to do that to alleviate the battle and reduce the causalities among the civilians,” Abdulwahid Tuama, an Iraqi political analyst, tells Newsweek Middle East.
“Both sides are trying to avoid the burned land policy in Mosul, so they can reduce the cost of reconstructing it later,” Tuama adds.
CHANGING THE CITY’S FABRIC
Mosul, which was established by the Assyrians in 1080 B.C., is also one of the oldest cities in Iraq.
Though it is dominated by Arab and Kurdish Sunni Muslims, it was also the biggest stronghold for religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq including Christians, Yazidi, Shiite Shabak and Turkmen, until Daesh took over.
The city’s population used to be more than two million strong. After Daesh seized the city, tens of thousands of Mosul residents, specifically the minorities, were either killed, forced to leave, or captured by the militants and forced to convert to Islam.
Local officials in Mosul and the U.N. mission in Iraq believe that around 1.5 million people are still living inside the city and the majority of them are not expected to flee as the government has asked them to stay home.
Sources from inside Mosul tell Newsweek Middle East that most of the people trapped inside the city are…
To read the full story, grab the latest issue of Newsweek Middle East dated October 26.