Iraqi offensive on Mosul continues on two fronts, but IS will not give up without a fight
According to General Riad Jalal Tawfiq, commander of all Iraqi ground forces, Islamic State could use chemical weapons to defend Mosul. Photograph: (AFP)
Early in the morning, shortly before dawn, the Peshmerga army lined up to launch a major offensive against Islamic State from military bases to the north and northeast of the town of Bashiqa. The objective was to reconquer as many villages as possible. The attack was carried out in coordination with Iraqi Security Forces who attacked from the south. The strategy is now clear – to attack Islamic State from all possible fronts, but without rushing. The priority seems to be to secure reconquered areas before advancing farther, probably to avoid counter-attacks from the rear.
This phase of the offensive is thought to be complicated because of the many IS-controlled villages on the way to Bashiqa, a medium-sized town that had fallen to Islamic State in June 2014.
The area's typical Iraqi landscape, low hills and open fields dotted with villages, makes the conflict a mix of old-style and guerrilla warfare. The Peshmerga lines have no natural elements protecting them as they advance, which leaves them exposed to heavy artillery and mortar fire. And visibility is so high that an even a few long-range weapons can create big problems.
But of course, that also makes IS posts vulnerable to airstrikes.
Once the Peshmerga enter a village, a “dangerous” war ensues – there is house-by-house fighting, unconventional warfare, and snipers.
The attack on the city of Mosul had been on the cards for some time, giving Islamic State plenty of time to organise. It is almost certain – it has happened during every operation in the past four days – that once the terrorists realise they are out of options, they will launch suicide vehicle attacks against the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces.
It happened on Monday in the first village the Peshmerga entered on the outskirts of the town of Bartella. A man launched himself in a car laden with explosives against the first line of soldiers. That act was repeated several other times, the last time being today.
The offensive seems to proceed as scheduled but it is clear that Islamic State will not surrender without a fight and the advance will become tougher as the frontline gets closer to Mosul, where villages start to turn into towns and a considerable number of civilians, and terrorists, live.
For some time now, information has trickled out about a sophisticated network of tunnels built to resist the Iraqi attack and on Wednesday, in the small village of Bafana east of Mosul, Peshmerga forces discovered a fully-equipped network of tunnels which could have served as a shelter for several days, giving Islamic State the chance to escape or to reorganise and attack the Iraqi forces from the rear. According to General Riad Jalal Tawfiq, commander of all Iraqi ground forces, Islamic State could also use chemical weapons to defend Mosul.
The more the armies advance, the more civilians they will meet on their way, accelerating an exodus that has been taking place since the past few months. That is something the IS is keen to avoid and they have been threatening to kill whoever leaves areas controlled by it – in order to allow them to use the local population as human shields against coalition air strikes.