After a year-and-a-half delay, the offensive that everyone had been waiting for to reconquer Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul began Monday.
Mosul, with its more than a million residents, was conquered in July 2014 as part of the shocking campaign by the fighters of Islamic State, who rode in on the back of their pickup trucks, taking over large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
The United States hoped that the Iraqi Army would be ready to launch a counter-offensive in the Spring of 2015, but it is only beginning now.
Some 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and 5,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are being aided by some 4,000 American “consultants,” who are operating drones, intelligence systems and special forces, as well as air support from the US, France and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition.
They oppose some 4,000 ISIS fighters, who in recent months have fortified the city, dug tunnels and booby- trapped Mosul with IEDs and land mines.
In the city and its surroundings live some 1.2 million people today, after more than 500,000 residents escaped when it was captured by ISIS.
Previously, many minorities also inhabited Mosul: Kurds, Yazidis, Armenians and Turkmens.
However, today the majority of the population is made up of Sunni Arabs, who have barely survived the regime of terrorist violence and the horrors of ISIS.
The battle will not be an easy one. It will not be an afternoon stroll on the banks of the Tigris River. However, eventually, in a few weeks, or a few months time, Mosul will return to the hands of Iraq’s central government.
When it does, it will serve as the official death knell for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s megalomaniacal idea of an Islamic Caliphate.
At he height of ISIS’s powers, it changed its name to Islamic State, and like an international capitalist corporation it issued franchises to use its name. The “caliphate” spawned affiliates in Sinai, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Philippines, Algeria, Pakistan, and more.
However, in actuality Baghdadi’s notion to establish a caliphate that would rule by a regime that forces seventh century law and behavior on its subjects, started to die a year ago already, if not beforehand.
Until recently, most analysts in Israel and abroad portended doom and gloom, describing apocalyptic visions of how Islamic State would take over the Middle East. A select few believed that, sooner or later, the caliphate’s end would come.
Islamic State suffered defeats on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq at the hands of multiple well-equipped and superior forces. Despite differing interests, all were united in the need to eradicate the 21st century’s Islamo-Nazis. The US and its allies in the West on the one hand, and Russia on the other hand, disagreed on the future of Syrian President Basher Assad, but they were united in their determination to defeat Islamic State. This was also the case with Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand, and the Kurds on the other, as well as Iraq, the Assad regime, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan and even Turkey in recent months.
The biggest fear in the fight for Mosul is that the Iraqi Army and Shi’ite militias operating under the orders of Iran will try to take revenge on the Sunni residents of Mosul. This happened during the conquest of Sunni cities such as Tikrit and Falluja, which had been under Islamic State control.
This time, according to the promises of Iraqi government spokesmen, this will not happen. American spokesmen have said that they have received assurances that the Shi’ite militias will not take part in the fighting, and that the liberation of Mosul will be carried out solely by the Iraqi Army. It can be hoped that this is truly what will happen, but there are no guarantees.
However, even after the reconquest of Mosul and the liberation of the city of Raqqa in Syria, the “capital” of the caliphate, both the Middle East and the West are expected to be plagued by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s operatives. The idea of a territorial caliphate is indeed going kaput, but Islamic State is expected to go back to its roots: what was originally established at the beginning of the 21st century as an al-Qaida-like terrorist organization that tried to carry out terrorist attacks anywhere it could.
However, the demise of IS doesn’t mean that the Syrian war and the terrorism and violence in Iraq will come to an end.