Iraqi forces 500m from symbolic mosque have ISIS defeat in their sights

Iraqi forces have proven themselves in battle, gaining the trust of their coalition partners, and are now closing in on the symbolic Nur mosque in west Mosul, preparing to deal a death blow to ISIS in the country, said a military analyst.

Iraqi forces are 500 metres from al-Hadba minaret and Nur mosque where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate on June 29, 2014. Because of its symbolic importance, ISIS is strongly defending the site, Iraqi military analyst Gen. Majid Alaqsi told Rudaw English.

He said that ISIS is depending on its ideologically-driven foreign fighters to defend Nur mosque in the 12 square kilometre Old City area. It will be a fight to the death, Alaqsi predicted, saying that the psychology of the foreign fighters does not allow them to surrender and they have no escape since west Mosul has been surrounded by Iraqi security forces.

The area will be difficult to retake, however; it has narrow streets and is densely populated. “Now the troops are fighting face-to-face,” said Alaqsi.

Iraqi troops are relying on their training and experience to fight ISIS in this tide-turning battle and once they succeed in defeating the extremist group, the fight for western Mosul will be finished, he predicted. “Now from this Nur mosque, they will finish the khalifa [caliphate], when the troops reach this mosque,” Alaqsi said.

This puts the Iraqi army just 500 metres away from winning what has been described as the largest urban warfare since World War Two. The achievements of the Iraqi army are remarkable considering they gained worldwide fame for dropping their weapons and running in the face of ISIS just less than three years earlier.

If you go back two or three years, the Iraqi army had many problems including training, leadership, and political interference, Alaqsi said. Now, after two years of training from the coalition, the army has “increased efficiency.”

The army, especially the elite Golden Division, gained experience in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Salahaddin. And now, said Alaqsi, coalition forces are attached to the Iraqi army in the frontlines, providing advice, support, and intelligence. “They are now beside the Iraqi troops,” going into battle with them and displaying a level of trust in the Iraqi forces.

Noting that for the first time the US army is working with the Federal Police, Alaqsi argued that this is an important step. “That means that the opinion about these troops has changed,” he said. “They go with them, together.”

Significant challenges remain, however, because there is no vision for the country post-ISIS and many players are involved, each with their own agenda, including Iran and Turkey, Alaqsi explained.

People are also scared. There is always the fear that ISIS will retreat to the desert where it came from and will wait and watch. It will take advantage of any problems that will arise to return; “ISIS sniper opportunities,” Alaqsi described them.

In order for the country to rebuild, Shia and Sunni have to talk, he said. And the political leaders have to respect the cost the Iraqi army has paid for this nation with its own blood.

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