By Henry Steck, International News Writer
On Thursday, November 3, Iraqi forces entered the Gogjali neighborhood, which is located inside the eastern city limits of ISIS occupied Mosul. It marks the first time Iraqi security forces have stepped inside the city since they were routed from Mosul two years ago. The city was seized in the summer of 2014 by ISIS when Iraqi forces, although possessing larger numbers and backed by billions in American aid, fled.
Coalition forces began an offensive aimed at liberating Mosul on Monday, October 17. The city holds strategic importance due to its considerable size, and location at a regional crossroads between Syria and Iraq. Mosul is the Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.
The first to reach the city limits were Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces, who coordinate closely with American military advisors, receiving US training and equipment. The Iraqi advance has slowed considerably since its inception, now having to push through booby-trapped buildings, snipers and car bombs.
Experts have long warned that the battle to take Mosul will lead so some of the fiercest fighting so far in the conflict against the Islamic State. Iraqi forces and their allies are currently around 6 miles from the city center.
Although coalition forces outnumber Daesh forces by more than 10-to-1, the fanatical ISIS contingent charged with defending the city is comprised of battle-hardened veterans, who are experts in foothold retention. There is also the threat of ISIS deploying chemical weapons in desperation, which violates international law and would be very harmful to the estimated 1.5 million civilians still stuck in the city. New refugee camps have been set up outside the city to accommodate for the flow of people fleeing the fighting in Mosul.
Coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery have been pounding the northern part of the Mosul, targeting Daesh controlled infrastructure, including tunnels, bridges and buildings used to manufacture IEDs.
So far one large ISIS convoy, reportedly carrying high ranking officials, has also been destroyed. In the north, a combination of Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces are pushing south towards Mosul. There has also been a strong presence of forces aligned with and supported by Turkey reported north of the city.
West of the city, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a largely Shia militia, is working to cut the main road linking Mosul and Syria.
Severing Mosul’s western road would make it nearly impossible for ISIS forces to escape back to Syria. The road stretches from Mosul to the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, and has so far allowed thousands of militants to flee.
Retaining its control of the city will be the most difficult challenge yet for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State, as Russian and Syrian Government forces continue to stretch ISIS forces thin in Syria in addition to Iraq’s new onslaught.
According to a rare reference to intelligence by British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, once reported to be inside Mosul, has since fled.
After the Islamic State is ousted from Mosul, there is still concern that a lack of agreement among tribes, even after years of planning, will cause sectarian violence.
In an effort to combat tensions, Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has made it clear that Shia militias are not at the forefront of the offensive to liberate Mosul. However, he was unable to promise that the liberation of the city would be totally free from reprisals.
While Mosul is a multi-ethnic city, its large Sunni population is fearful of Shia militias carrying out mass killings. Shia militia have done so in the past, killing Sunnis they claimed cooperated with ISIS.
Overall, the Islamic State has so far been unable prevent its territory from shrinking in both Syria and Iraq. ISIS controlled territory has been shrinking consistently for months, though the severity of their attacks still remains. The recapture of Mosul will mark another goal met in the fight to free the region from the group’s tyrannical grasp.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 8th print edition.
Contact Henry at