The Obama administration announced on Wednesday it will send an additional 615 American troops to Iraq, increasing the number of US forces in the country to over 5,200. The deployment has been directly linked to advanced preparations for a US-directed assault to recapture the city of Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after talks with US and Iraqi officials on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, told a meeting of business figures on September 25 that an attack on Mosul would “kick off on October 19.”
Mosul fell to ISIS in June 2014. It was an utter debacle for Washington and the US puppet regime in Baghdad. A few thousand Sunni Muslim extremists routed tens of thousands of Iraqi government troops and captured an array of armoured vehicles, light vehicles, artillery, small arms, ammunition and even helicopters. Over $500 million was taken from Mosul banks. On June 29, 2014, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in the city’s Grand Mosque and bombastically declared an Islamic “caliphate.”
Mosul has been under regular aerial attack by US and allied aircraft and Predator drones since late 2014. Hundreds of ISIS fighters and unknown numbers of civilians have been killed, but the city remains in the hands of the Islamist movement. The estimate of how many ISIS fighters are in Mosul ranges from 5,000 to 20,000. The estimate of the number of civilians who are effectively trapped in the city also varies widely, from 500,000 to more than 1.2 million, with up to another 800,000 in surrounding towns and villages.
Whatever the precise numbers, what is looming is a bloodbath and humanitarian catastrophe. Mosul is under a virtual economic blockade, hospitals lack medicine and staff and food and fuel supplies are low. According to a range of reports, ISIS has rigged multiple buildings, structures and vehicles with explosives, developed intricate underground tunnel networks, built anti-tank berms on the key approaches into the main urban areas and dug trenches filled with oil that will be ignited to block a ground assault. ISIS has murdered hundreds of civilians for allegedly supporting the government or refusing to join its forces, and executed dozens of its own fighters for deserting their positions.
An attack will be spearheaded by two US- and Australian-trained Iraqi Army divisions, numbering up to 30,000 troops, which are currently deployed some 50 kilometres to the south of the city. The government forces are being assisted by American, British, French and Australian air power and US Marine and French artillery units. Some 6,000 police, overwhelmingly Sunnis, along with several thousand Sunni tribal militia members aligned with the government, have been readied to move into the city if it falls.
An unknown number of Shiite fighters, loyal to the fundamentalist political parties that dominate the US-backed Iraqi government, are also in the Mosul area, accompanied by Iranian officers and advisors. The militias, which were blamed for widespread sectarian killings when the largely Sunni cities of Ramadi and Fallujah fell to government forces, will reportedly not enter Mosul but function as a rearguard for the military units.
The autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has at least 10,000 of its Peshmerga troops holding defensive positions 30 kilometres to the north and east of the city, supported by German and Italian military trainers. Kurdish commanders say they will push forward against ISIS to support a government offensive, but not take part in fighting inside the city itself. An anti-ISIS, largely Christian militia, the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit, with possibly as many as 1,000 troops, is fighting alongside the Kurds.
Justifications have been given in advance for the slaughter of every person labelled a member of ISIS and for large numbers of civilian casualties. Kurdish military chief of staff General Jamal Mohammad Omer asserted last week that ISIS “will fight to the death.” Figures ranging from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to representatives of the US military have alleged that ISIS is using civilians as “human shields.”
A brief prepared for the KRG and obtained by the British Observer in August stated: “It is highly likely that hundreds of thousands of people will be displaced, trapped, stranded, injured and killed. Those who will be able to escape will leave all of their possessions behind and will solely depend on humanitarian assistance.”
Relief agencies are warning that the preparations for the human consequences of an offensive are woefully inadequate.
“It’s a nightmare—a disaster heading our way,” Alex Milutinovic, the director of the International Rescue Committee in Erbil, told New Yorker magazine correspondent Dexter Filkins. “The Iraqi government is determined to destroy ISIS, but it is impossible to accommodate the number of refugees the military operation is going to produce.”
Filkins, after visiting the Debaga refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan where some 40,000 people live in squalor and desperation, wrote on September 23: “To accommodate the million additional refugees who are expected, the UN and other aid agencies operating in northern Iraq would have to build twenty-five camps just like Debaga, in 30 days. There is little evidence anywhere that anyone has even started. Indeed, the plans described so far are almost comical in their emptiness: 250,000 refugees are supposed to be sent, by bus, to the city of Tikrit, where they are to be dispersed among the homes abandoned by others who have fled the fighting there.”
Aid agencies lack sufficient food, tents, medical supplies and other essentials for the sheer scale of the displacement they are expecting. Only half of $240 million in assistance that has been pledged by various governments has actually been paid.
As with the recapture of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah from ISIS, the US-led assault on Mosul is likely to reduce large parts of the city to rubble. ISIS fanatics have already reportedly destroyed priceless artifacts dating back over 3,000 years to the Assyrian empire. They have vandalised Christian churches, blown up Sufi and Shiite mosques and shrines, and ransacked the city’s library, destroying thousands of irreplaceable books and newspaper collections. The intensity of the aerial and artillery bombardment that will accompany the entry of government forces into the city will cause irreparable damage to numerous more cultural treasures of humanity.
The destruction being prepared by US imperialism—along with its European and Australian allies and its Iraqi and KRG puppet governments—underscores the hypocrisy of its condemnation of the brutal assault being carried out by the Syrian government and Russian forces on Islamist rebel-held areas of Aleppo in northern Syria. Even as the Obama administration asserts that Russia is responsible for “barbarism,” it is overseeing plans for even greater crimes in Iraq.