Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 246-47 Jun 19-20 2017

Iraqi police fighting in west Mosul’s Old City (AFP)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) made another advance, while the Islamic State is down to just one district under its control in Mosul. First, the army’s 9th Division announced that the Shifa neighborhood was finally freed. That allowed the ISF to also take the western end of the Fifth Bridge across the Tigris River. The Federal Police were still fighting for Bab al-Baid, attacked Bab al-Lakash, and advanced 200 meters into the Farouq area all in the Old City. The Golden Division freed Khazraj in that district as well. The insurgents launched another counter attack into Danadan south of the Old City, but was turned back. Shifa was a difficult battle, holding up the Iraqi forces for almost a month. With that finally under control, IS only holds the Old City. It will likely be the hardest part of the entire campaign because the streets are so narrow military vehicles cannot traverse them, the houses are so densely laid out that artillery, mortars and air strikes will likely take a heavy civilian toll, and the militants have nowhere to go, and will fight to the death. There are already signs of that as more than 200 bodies were said to have been pulled out of the rubble caused by ISF air strikes and artillery over the last few days.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sinjar Dispute Between The Hashd and Kurdistan Democratic Party Interview With Journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg


Sinjar in west Ninewa has become a flashpoint between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Hashd (PMU) and Yazidis after the Hashd liberated the remaining villages in the district from the Islamic State starting at the end of May 2017. The KDP immediately condemned the Hashd’s presence leading to a war of words between the two. Journalist Wladimir van Wilgenburg recently travelled to the district. Here is an interview about what he saw. He can be followed on Twitter @vvanwilgenburg.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 245 Jun 18 2017

Smoke rising from new assault upon Old City district West Mosul (Bas News)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) finally launched a multi-pronged assault upon the Old City district in west Mosul. The operation started at 6 am. Two brigades from the Golden Division moved into Farouq in the northwest, while the army’s 16th Division advanced from Bab al-Sinjar and Bab al-Lakash in the north. A Federal Police brigade attacked Bab al-Baid in the southwest. They claimed they broke through the first two lines of the Islamic State’s defenses, while the Golden Division said progress was slow due to the dense layout of the streets and houses and the large number of civilians. IS launched four counter attacks consisting of car bombs and suicide bombers, but were turned back. The Iraqis were struggling over the medical complex in Shifa as well. Leaflets were dropped over the city by the Iraqi air force telling people that the ISF was coming, while loudspeakers blasted messages that the insurgents should surrender, and civilians should flee towards the Iraqi forces. Shifa and the Old City are the last two sections of the city still under the militants’ control. The latter was originally attacked in March, and the ISF quickly bogged down, and became a holding force to tie down IS fighters, while others moved up the flank and eventually to the north as well. Shifa was targeted when the latest offensive started at the end of May and the Iraqi forces have been stuck in the medical center that consists of several hospitals. Both are now under attack meaning the Mosul campaign is finally coming to a conclusion.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Musings On Iraq In The News

Mosul Campaign Day 244 Jun 17 2017

Father and his brother search dead bodies in west Mosul looking for his son (Voice of America)

There was fighting across the two remaining areas in west Mosul under Islamic State control. First, the Golden Division had to call off an attack upon Shifa due to heavy fire from IS, especially snipers in hospital buildings and the use of human shields. The Federal Police claimed to have taken Hospital Street in the neighborhood. Unofficially, a Federal Police Captain told Bas News they were in control of 70% of the neighborhood, while another police officer went further saying all of Shifa was freed. June 16, the police were only supposed to have 30-35% of the area, which was below the 60% mentioned on June 11. The Rapid Reaction Division assaulted Tal Zalat, which is one of the entrances to the Old City. Police reinforcements also arrived outside Bab al-Jadid and in Bab al-Sinjar two other ways into the Old City. When the new offensive started at the end of May the Iraqi forces (ISF) moved into the Shifa medical complex and immediately got ambushed by the insurgents and had to retreat. They have been struggling over the area ever since. That hasn’t stopped the Iraqis from claiming they controlled a varying amount of the neighborhood. The actual figure is impossible to say since it keeps going up and down. The Old City on the other hand, will be the last neighborhood taken on by the ISF. It has held up the police for four months or more now. It has a large civilian population, and the IS fighters have been able to successfully exploit the dense layout where armored vehicles are too large to traverse the streets to build formidable defense. The district will eventually fall, but it will be a bloody battle.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Musings On Iraq 9 Year Anniversary

Back in 2001 on September 11 I was watching CBS news with Dan Rather to catch upon the day’s terrorist attack. One of the guests was former CIA director James Woolsey who was part of the neoconservative movement in the United States. Woolsey spent his entire interview talking about how it was time for the United States to strike Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein even if he had nothing to do with the Al Qaeda attack. For whatever reason this stuck in my head as a very odd thing to say. By the end of the year I began to notice a growing number of reports in the press about the United States considering Iraq in the new war on terror. I decided then that I would find out why the Bush administration was going to war. By 2002 I was reading everything I could read about Iraq and posting long posts on message boards about the coming conflict. In 2008 I decided I should publish some of these thoughts and started this blog Musings On Iraq. Since then I have expanded my research to reading around 45 papers a day, reading all the reports and think tank pieces that come out about Iraq, networked with dozens of people who are involved in the country, and done 120 interviews. I would like to thank all those people who have helped me along the way and all the readers. In 9 years my site has gotten over 5.3 million hits. That wouldn’t be possible without all of you.

Mosul Campaign Day 243 Jun 16 2017

Picture of destruction in Rifai neighborhood west Mosul freed on May 17, 2017 (Baghdad Post)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued to have problems with their reporting. First, Bab al-Sinjar one of the northern entrances to the Old City district was officially declared freed yesterday. On June 16 however, three brigades from the army’s 9th Division seized a market there. To the north, the Federal Police said they held 30-35% of the Shifa neighborhood. This was despite the fact that the police have been fighting over the same area of Shifa since the end of May, and claimed that it held 60% back on June 11. The Rapid Reaction Division was still struggling over the Old City as well. The pressure from Baghdad to have daily reports of progress and victories is what leads to these contradictory stories and exaggerations.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 242 Jun 15 2017

Only two neighborhoods remain under Islamic State control in Mosul the Old City (large section in white) and Shifa (small section in white)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) were taking on one of the last two neighborhoods in Mosul under Islamic State control, while they officially announced another under government control. The Joint Operations Command officially declared Bab al-Sinjar one of the northern entrances to the Old City district freed. The Rapid Reaction Division and 9th Division were still attacking the medical center in Shifa. That area was originally entered at the end of May, but the Iraqi forces got ambushed by IS and driven off. Some reports have the ISF holding up to 60% of the neighborhood, while others have them stuck in the medical center with little other progress, so that figure may be an exaggeration. Shifa and the Old City are the last two sections of the city under insurgent control. The latter will be the last to be taken, and will likely be the most difficult due to its dense layout and the fact that the insurgents have nowhere to go but die fighting.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 241 Jun 14 2017

A force of at least 100 Islamic State fighters moved from the Old City district (Sheik Abu Al Ula on map) down the Tigris River and attacked Danadan and Dawasa neighborhoods (bottom right of map) forcing police to temporarily retreat to the Mosul International Airport (bottom of map). Zinjali (top left corner) was finally freed by Iraqi forces on June 13. Iraqis are now trying to free Shifa (Shafaa on map) and its host of hospitals before attacking the Old City the last major section of Mosul under IS control. (Medecins Sans Frontieres)

The Islamic State launched a surprise attack upon the Iraqi forces in two neighborhoods in southern west Mosul. Starting at 3 am around 100 Islamic State fighters attacked the Danadan neighborhood coming out of the Old City district. The fighters moved along the Tigris River and opened with 7 car bombs from the front and 25 suicide bombers that hit the Federal Police from the rear. One police commander told the press there might have been up to 50 suicide bombers, but that figure might have just come from the heat of the battle with so many explosions going off. The Federal Police claimed that IS sleeper cells were responsible for the attacks from behind. The insurgents set fire to buildings to create smoke to try to prevent air strikes, took over a mosque to announce their presence, and executed 6 people. They were able to expand the attack into Dawasa and Nabi Sheet as well. The police were temporarily forced back to the Mosul airport outside of the city. By the afternoon, the Iraqi forces (ISF) and a spokesman for the U.S. led Coalition claimed that all the lost territory was re-captured. That was contradicted by a man who talked with the Washington Post who said there were still IS fighters on his block, and a Federal Police officer who told Reuters clashes continued. Throughout the Mosul battle the insurgents have been able to occasionally launch these large attacks and throw the ISF back on their heels.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 240 Jun 13 2017

Iraqis fleeing fighting in west Mosul (Reuters)

The Iraqi forces (ISF) made two advances in the final battle for Mosul. Zinjali was declared freed for the second time. The last few days the ISF have been contradicting themselves about whether the neighborhood was liberated or not. Bab al-Sinjar, one of the northern entrances to the Old City was also taken. That has shifted the heavy fighting to Shifa and the Old City district, both of which are along the Tigris River. The ISF are going to attack the latter from multiple directions with the army, police, and Golden Division. Shifa and the Old City are the only two sections of the city still under Islamic State control. The combat is incredibly intense due to the dense layout and the fact that the IS fighters have nowhere to go.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 239 Jun 12 2017

The Iraqi forces (ISF) continued to have problems with their press releases about the Mosul battle. On June 9, the Federal Police announced that it had freed the Zinjali neighborhood in the center of the city. Then on June 11 the Joint Operations Command corrected that saying only the southern half of the area was liberated. June 12 the Federal Police commander General Raed Shakir Jawadat doubled down and again claimed that all of Zinjali was under government control. That was contradicted by the fact that the Rapid Reaction Division head General Thamir al-Husseini said that his forces destroyed an Islamic State headquarters in Zinjali. Not only that but the ISF were fighting over a market in southern Zinjali, which showed that the entire neighborhood was still contested. Another area under attack was Shifa, which is next door. The ISF said they had made little progress, but then yesterday claimed they had 60% of Shifa under control. Such a sudden advance might have been another exaggeration. The main point of contention was the medical complex, which is in the northern section. The ISF attacked the area at the start of the new campaign at the end of May, but it was a trap set by the insurgents who drove the Iraqi forces out. Finally, the ISF were still fighting over Bab al-Sinjar that is one of the northern entrances to the Old City district. The Joint Operations Command also denied news reports that the ISF were near the Hadbaa minaret in the Old City. Every day the Iraqi forces have to announce victories in the war against the Islamic State. This constant pressure, and competition amongst the different units involved in the Mosul campaign leads to continuous embellishments, and sometimes false stories. These recent events were a perfect example.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Musings On Iraq In The News

Mosul Campaign Day 238 Jun 11 2017

The Iraqi forces (ISF) have been consistently inconsistent in their announcements about advances against the Islamic State and there were new examples of that in the Mosul battle. First, the War Media Cell said only the southern part of the Zinjali neighborhood in west Mosul was freed by the army’s 9th Division. The commander of the Federal Police claimed the entire area was taken on June 9. The Federal Police were removing explosives and looking for any insurgents that might have been left behind within the neighborhood. There was a new attack upon the Bab al-Sinjar entrance to the Old City district. The ISF have said they’ve been assaulting that area for days now. This raises the questions whether that really happened, whether this was just a new attack, or a new unit joined in. Finally, according to the Federal Police 50% of Shifa was taken. The Iraqi forces have a bad habit of claiming successes before they happen. That’s because of the constant pressure to have daily press releases about victories in the war. That leads to these types of situations where a neighborhood is called freed when it isn’t yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 237 Jun 10 2017

After freeing Zinjali yesterday the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were moving onto the Shifa neighborhood. Shifa is in central Mosul along the Tigris River. The ISF attacked the area at the start of the new offensive at the end of May seizing several hospitals, but that was a trap set by the Islamic State, which then drove the Iraqi forces out. An army brigade claimed it penetrated 50 meters into Shifa. The ISF are also trying to take Bab al-Sinjar, which is one of the entrances to the Old City district. Shifa and the Old City are the last two parts of the city that the insurgents hold.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 236 Jun 9 2017

Destruction wrought by fighting in Zinjali, West Mosul (AFP)

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) freed the second neighborhood in their final push on Mosul. The Federal Police announced that Zinjali was finally liberated. The ISF were also moving on Shifa where there has been no real progress so far. With this victory, there is just Shifa and the large Old Mosul district left under Islamic State control. At the start of the new offensive the ISF made a push into the Shifa medical district, but got ambushed by IS and were forced out. The Old City has held up the police for four months nw.

Friday, June 9, 2017

2,001 Killed, 1,459 Wounded In Iraq In May 2017

There were 520 security incidents in Iraq in May 2017 leading to 2,001 deaths and 1,459 wounded. The disparity between the dead and injured, the latter should be 2-4 times higher than the former, is due to incomplete reporting on casualties in Iraq, especially when it comes to government losses that Baghdad is censoring. As the Mosul battle has winded down so have the number of incidents. 520 were the fewest recorded in the year. Casualties have slowly gone down as well in 2017.

Mosul Campaign Day 235 Jun 8 2017

The major fighting in Mosul remained in the Zinjali neighborhood in the center of the city. The army, police and Golden Division are all involved. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were originally overly optimistic claiming it could clear Zinjali, Shifa and Saha by June 1. The last one is the only one that has been liberated so far, and that was on June 2. The Iraqi forces are constantly claiming that victory is around the corner as part of its propaganda campaign. Others predicted that this final battle would be the toughest so far and that is proving true.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 234 Jun 7, 2017

The heaviest fighting was still in Zinjali in west Mosul. The Iraqi forces gave different figures throughout the day on how much of the neighborhood they held. That ranged from a source that had it at 80%, the Federal Police commander General Raed Shakir Jawadat who had 85%, the Joint Operations Command who claimed 90%, and a Federal Police major who put it at 95%. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have had problems with their numbers for this area for the last several days. Whatever the percentage was it appeared the ISF were on the verge of liberating it. The Iraqis were still pushing into Shifa as well as Bab al-Sinjar one of the entrances to the Old City district. Since the last push on Mosul began one neighborhood has been freed, and the remaining three are all under attack. Progress has been slow with the Islamic State putting up a tough defense.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 233 Jun 6 2017

Civilians fleeing fighting in WMosul (New York Times)

Progress in west Mosul has been very slow as many predicted. The Federal Police claimed they held 75% of Zinjali. On June 3 they said they had up to 85% of the neighborhood. These types of figures are always changing depending upon the source, and are also driven by the government’s desire to always have positive news come out about the battle. Yesterday, the Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division attacked the Old City district from the north to try to make a breakthrough. The district has held up the police for four months now. Originally, Iraqi commanders said they could take all of Mosul in just a few days, again the result of Iraqi propaganda demands. A Ninewa councilman predicted that the fight would take weeks, and hoped that by the end of June the city would be liberated. Several Iraqi officers and the U.S. spokesman warned that this last push would be difficult, and it is proving so.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 232 Jun 5 2017

Iraqi armored car passing a truck destroying by Islamic State west Mosul (Reuters)
Iraqi T-72 tank moves across rubble in west Mosul (Reuters)

There was fighting in three areas of west Mosul. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were still trying to capture the Zinjali neighborhood. The ISF has largely been frustrated in Shifa and the Old City and tried to push into the two areas from different directions. The Iraqi command claimed that the final assault on Mosul would be over quickly, while lower ranking officers and the Americans warned the opposite that it would be the toughest part of the fight. The latter are proving to be more accurate.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 231 Jun 4 2017

The Hashd captured Baaj (center in white) in west Mosul where many IS elements were believed to have fled when Mosul was attacked. Yellow to the north is Peshmerga held section of Sinjar district. Green is Hashd held. Red is Syria. (Al Forat News)

There was fighting across the front in Mosul. The Federal Police gave conflicting numbers again about its progress in Zinjali. One report said they held 65%. Federal Police commander General Raed Shakir Jawadat had it at 60%. Yesterday they claimed it was at 75-85%. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were still attempting to capture the medical center in Shifa. It was taken a few days ago, but the Islamic State forced the Iraqi forces out. The insurgents also launched a large assault upon the Bab al-Bob, Bab al-Jadid and Bab Lakash entrances to the Old City in the early morning, but were turned back. The ISF has to make announcements of success every day. It is part of the government’s propaganda campaign. The problem is that it’s not a coordinated effort and there is plenty of exaggeration and sometimes make believe going on. That’s the reason why there are always conflicting statements and claims about advances.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Musings On Iraq In The News

Was featured in SF State Magazine my alma mater on Alumni from the school for my Iraq work. I was mentioned in "ISIS executes 5 civilians in western Mosul for fleeing" in Rudaw.

Mosul Campaign Day 230 Jun 3 2017

Iraqi propaganda was again obfuscating the situation in west Mosul. First, each day the government releases a map of west Mosul showing the disposition of the opposing forces. Yesterday the Saha 1 neighborhood was freed. On the map, it had been colored in liberated for several days beforehand. Second, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continued to give different figures on its progress in Zinjali. On June 2 two sources claimed 40% or 60% of the area was taken from the insurgents. June 3 the Federal Police said that 40-50% was cleared beforehand, and an additional 25% was liberated. Another source claimed that 85% of Zinjali was under government control. The commander of the Federal Police General Read Shakir Jawadat told the press that his forces were 800 meters into the neighborhood. Whatever the real percentage is reinforcements arrived to help with the fighting. The conflicting statements have been a trademark of official releases by the ISF. They must report progress every day to support the propaganda effort, and there is little coordination leading to different stories at any given time.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 229 Jun 2 2017

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) captured their first neighborhood in their new operation in Mosul. Saha 1 was taken by the Golden Division. The ISF was also said to be in control of 40% to 60% of Zinjali depending upon the source, and there was still fighting in Shifa. On May 28 the second day of the new offensive the ISF claimed they had 60% of Zinjali. That was likely an exaggeration. The Iraqis originally said they were going to liberate all three areas yesterday, but the fighting has been tough and official predictions are always over optimistic.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 228 Jun 1 2017

There were more problems with the optimistic timeline laid out by the Iraqi forces on their planned progress in the Mosul battle. June 1 was when the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were supposed to have feed Zinjali, Shifa and Saha, which are the neighborhoods north of the Old City district along the Tigris River. There was fighting in all three of those areas, but no reported advances. The ISF are always saying they are trying to protect civilians, but the reality of battle is something else. Residents in Old Mosul said there were streets and yards full of dead bodies from artillery and air strikes. The Islamic State continued to target people attempting to flee as well. Twelve people were reportedly killed and 23 wounded by IS fire trying to escape, and the group executed another 8. Residents of the city have suffered huge casualties during the fighting from all sides. The government’s decision to tell people to stay in the city proved a major mistake, and IS using human shields and targeting civilians all played a role.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 227 May 31 2017

Zinjali on the left is where the biggest but still limited advance has been made so far in the final attack upon Mosul. In the top right there was penetration into Saha as well. (Ninewa Media Cell)

The final fight for Mosul continued to be a difficult one. Reuters reported that the Islamic State closed off the streets around the Grand Mosque in the Old City district. The insurgents have also been moving people out of Zinjali and into the Old City to try to prevent them from escaping. There were no advances reported. When the latest operation started Iraqi officials and the security forces were overly optimistic as usual. Zinjali, Shifa and Saha were predicted to fall by June 1, and the whole city in just a matter of days. With only limited results in four days it is hard to believe that either of those deadlines are going to be met.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 226 May 30 2017

There has been very slow progress since the last phase of the Mosul Battle began four days ago. Zinjali has been the only neighborhood where constant advances have been reported. A military school run by the Islamic State was captured. Army officers told Agence France Presse that things were moving very slowly in Shifa where there are several hospitals the Iraqi forces (ISF) were not trying to destroy. As usual, the insurgents are relying upon small units to carry out hit and run tactics. They fire upon the ISF and then move onto another position. During the day they launched two counterattacks, one in Bab al-Tob in the Old City, and another in Hawi Kanisa, which is a liberated area of west Mosul. Iraqi officials and members of the ISF were talking about expelling IS from the city in just a few days. That is probably overly optimistic as most Iraqi announcements are.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 225 May 29 2017

The third day of the last phase of the Battle for Mosul saw fighting on all fronts, with limited progress. The Federal Police moved 100 more meters into Zinjali for a total of 400 meters. Most of the Islamic State fighters in the neighborhood were said to have retreated to the Old City. There was continued clashes in that district and Saha where reinforcements were sent in. The Iraqi air force once again leafletted the city telling people to flee through safe corridors set up by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Originally, the government told the population to stay within the city because neither it nor aid agencies had the capacity to deal with them. That greatly complicated the battle and has led to huge casualties. Baghdad has finally changed tact and is now telling citizens to leave to make way for the ISF.

Mosul Campaign day 224 May 28 2017

Federal Police officer firing an RPG in west Mosul (Reuters)

The second day of the new push on west Mosul brought mixed successes. The Golden Division was said to be in control of 70% of Saha, the Rapid Reaction Division and Federal Police 60% of Zinjali. Other reports however had the police only 300 meters into Zinjali. The Islamic State also set another ambush for the Iraqi forces in the medical center in Saha. On May 27 the center was taken, but during the night IS counter attacked and drove the Iraqi forces (ISF) out. The Ibn Sina Hospital in the center was set on fire, and 12 civilians executed inside by the militants. 13 ISF were killed during the fighting. The ISF command wants to capture these neighborhoods along with Shifa in the next 72 hours and then move onto the Old City, the largest district still under insurgent control. Not to be out done, the Golden Division spokesman predicted that all of Mosul would be liberated in just a few days. Iraqi propaganda is known for its exaggeration. IS defenses in the Old City successfully held off the police for several months and even a multi-pronged attack from several directions is likely to be difficult.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 223 May 27 2017

The last assault on Mosul finally began. The Army’s 9th, 15th, and 16th Divisions attacked the Shifa neighborhood. The Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division went into Zinjali, while the Golden Division attacked the first Saha district. The Third Bridge across the Tigris River was reached, and the Mosul Hotel and Tamuz 17 were both taken. This was the fourth time the latter was declared freed. A brigade and a regimental commander in the 16th Division were killed in the day’s fighting. General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi of the Golden Division appeared on television stating that the Islamic State had lost control of the situation. On the other hand, General Haider Fadhil also of the Golden Division said that resistance had not lessoned, and remained high. Other Iraqi and American officers thought this would be the toughest part of the entire operation. IS only controls roughly five square miles of territory along the Tigris, but they have put up a determined defense especially in the Old City, which held up the police for months. The layout of the city in this area is especially dense and many streets are too narrow for vehicles or tanks to traverse. There have been several reports of the Iraqi forces having to fight floor to floor inside buildings. The insurgents also have an extensive tunnel network and have dug holes in walls to allow them to fire and maneuver without exposing themselves to air strikes. It’s likely that this final phase will take a few weeks to conclude.

Mosul Campaign Day 246-47 Jun 19-20 2017

Iraqi police fighting in west Mosul’s Old City (AFP) The Iraqi forces (ISF) made another advance, while the Islamic State is down t...