Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by US-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway. Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operations on state television, launching the country on its toughest battle since American troops left the country nearly five years ago.
Watch Video | Iraqi forces launch battle in Mosul
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“These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake,” al-Abadi said, addressing the city’s residents and using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State group. “God willing, we should win,” he added.
Why is battle of Mosul important?
Stretching for about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of the capital, Baghdad, Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq. The city has been under IS rule for over two years now. According to United Nations, there are over a million civilians who are still living in the city. The majority population in the city is of Sunni population. Amid widespread resentment towards the Shiite-dominated security forces, Islamic State was able to take control of the city with relative ease back in 2014. The northern city was where IS supremo Abu Kabr al-Baghdadi publicly announced himself as a “caliphate”.
Watch | Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “Caliph of the Islamic State”
The push to retake Mosul will be the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011 and, if successful, the strongest blow yet to the Islamic State. With the support of Iran and a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces have since regained much of the ground lost to IS and Mosul is the extremist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq. Earlier, this year, the soldiers freed the city of Fallujah from IS and regained the city. A statement on Al-Abadi’s website pledged the fight for the city would lead to the liberation of all Iraqi territory from the militants this year.
US support for Iraq against Islamic State, Russia suggests caution
US is showing full support to Iraqi soldiers in their mission to take back Mosul city from IS. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that operations to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group will be the key to defeating the jihadist group.
“This is a decisive moment in the campaign to deliver IS a lasting defeat,” Carter said. “We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from IS’s hatred and brutality.” Carter also promised continued support for Iraq.
Russia, on the other hand, have asked the Iraqi soldiers to take a cautious approach and expressed their concerns. President Vladimir Putin called on the US-led coalition to avoid civilian casualties in the battle to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State jihadist group.
“We hope that our American partners, and in this case our French partners as well, will act selectively and do everything to minimise — and even better, to rule out –civilian casualties,” Putin said in a televised news conference on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in India.
UN stand on Mosul
The UN deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief also expressed his concern of civilian casualties that are at risk when the military operations are underway to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul.
“I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted by military operations to retake the city from IS,” Stephen O’Brien said. He also warned Iraqi soldiers that “families are at extreme risk of being caught in cross-fire or targeted by snipers.”
According to United Nations, military operations are also predicted to displace 200,000 to a million people from the city. In spite of preparations laid out by Iraqi army for displaced civilians, the resources available will not be suffice for everyone, as the aid groups say they only have enough space for around 100,000 people.
Another major concern, is that the country is undergoing major financial crisis and according to the government, they do not have adequate funds to prepare for humanitarian fallout of Mosul battle. According to reports, some commanders are also advising civilians to stay at home rather than flee when the operations are underway.
(With inputs from AP/Reuters)