The Aftermath of the Mosul Offensive – Security Risks
19 Jul 2017
On 10 July 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared a ‘total victory’ over the Islamic State group in the city of Mosul. The announcement marked the official end to the Mosul offensive, which began in November 2016. Due to a combination of US coalition airstrikes, Islamic State booby traps, and street clearance operations, much of Mosul has been severely damaged. Search and rescue operations are still underway.
- Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have officially completed the Mosul offensive.
- The city has been severely damaged due to the conflict, and search and rescue operations continue.
- The Islamic State (IS) is unlikely to cease operations in the city, and increased terror attacks are likely.
Armed Conflict: On 10 July 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared a ‘total victory’ over the Islamic State group in the city of Mosul. The announcement marked the official end to the Mosul offensive, which began in November 2016. It was conducted by members of the Iraqi Security Forces, who led offensive operations throughout the city. These forces were supported by US-led coalition airstrikes, while the perimeters of Mosul were secured by Kurdish Peshmerga forces and an array of militias. Due to a combination of US coalition airstrikes, Islamic State booby traps, and street clearance operations, much of Mosul has been severely damaged. Search and rescue operations are still underway, with some civilians still caught in the rubble. Iraqi Security Forces remain in the city, and there have been continuing reports of gunfire and some explosions from within Mosul, indicating that some residual IS cells are still active.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
The completion of the Mosul offensive has been a serious defeat for the Islamic State group. Mosul was a symbolic city for IS, and it is from the Al Nuri mosque that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced the Islamic State caliphate. Mosul was also the administrative capital of the Islamic State, before this was moved to Raqqa in Syria at the beginning of the Mosul offensive. IS fighter fought hard at every stage of the city, and inflicted heavy casualties upon Iraqi forces. In turn, IS lost hundreds of fighter in defence of Mosul, including some high ranking military commanders. The loss of territory in Mosul has also been a severe blow to morale for Islamic State, who rely heavily on propaganda. While the group still holds some small towns and villages in north western Iraq, the territorial strength of Islamic State now lies in Syria.
Despite the official announcement of the end of the Mosul offensive, the city remains in conflict. The final part of the Mosul offensive involved street by street clearance operations in the Old City, in particular around the Al Nuri mosque. This area was heavily booby trapped by Islamic State, who utilized improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to degrade the ISF. Many of these booby traps have not yet been cleared, meaning that there remains a residual risk from IEDs in the city. There has also been continued sporadic gunfire throughout the city. It is thought that some IS cells remain hidden in some areas, continuing to fight the ISF.
Accusations of ISF members executing Islamic State prisoners have occurred throughout the city. The reason behind the extrajudicial killings is reportedly due to the fear of corruption within Iraq; many believe that IS militants can bribe their way out of prisons. This distrust of governmental infrastructure and judiciary has led to hundreds of IS militants being killed. Such actions have been known to instigate further violence from Islamic State. In the past, IS was able to recruit in Iraq because of anger over abuses by state forces, including arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings. Such extrajudicial killings may in the long term drive further recruits into the hands of IS in the Mosul area. The resentment of ISF abuses is likely to prolong the political and sectarian conflict in the area.
Sectarian violence in Mosul has further contributed to tensions in the city. Many Shiite militias were deliberately not used within Sunni majority Mosul, and were mainly used to secure the outlying areas. Prior to the offensive, there was a fear that the sectarian abuses that had marked previous city offensives, such as in Fallujah, would be replicated in Mosul. In Mosul, there have been many reports of Shiite militias executing and persecuting both Sunni civilians and IS militants, but this has been confined to the outlying areas of the city. It is currently unclear whether these Shiite militias will be allowed to help with the clean-up and rescue operations in Mosul. If they are allowed into the city, there is potential for further sectarian abuses.
The destruction in Mosul has led to a severe internal displacement crisis in Iraq. There are multiple Internal Displacement Camps located in the outlying areas around Mosul. However, these are likely to remain in place for some time, as many parts of Mosul remain uninhabitable. This being said, some parts of Mosul are being rebuilt. Areas of the east city are slowly regaining inhabitants, and a small market economy has sprung up. This has been helped by the Iraqi government, who have back paid the salaries of government employees in Mosul.
While the ISF have won a military victory in Mosul, the lack of a political resolution means that IS has not been entirely beaten in the area. The continuation of sectarian differences between Sunni and Shia communities in Iraq, alongside continuing corruption and abuses by the military, means that Islamic State will continue to have support of some Iraqi’s. The Iraqi government has pledged to rebuild critical infrastructure, as well as pay the salaries of public workers who remain in areas once held by IS. Yet the fall in oil prices has severely reduced the government’s ability to pay for such measures. Islamic state continues to hold some territory, so the military offensive will continue in the immediate term, with militants being pushed across the border into Syria. The tactics of IS are likely to revert to terrorism, as previously seen prior to 2014. As it stands, the Mosul offensive was a military blow for IS, but the group will maintain its ability to conduct terror attacks throughout Iraq.
SECURITY ADVICEArmed ConflictHigh
Travellers should avoid the areas surrounding Mosul at present. Locations within the city and its surrounding outskirts will be highly militarised, in addition to the potential for the resumption of open conflict remaining constant. Due to the nature of guerrilla and terror tactics used by IS, it is difficult to determine where and when IS will mount offensives. It is recommended enhanced security precautions should be employed at all times whilst in country.
The Islamic State group are likely to increase reprisal terror attacks throughout Iraq. Baghdad, Basra, and Fallujah are already on a high security alert, yet IS militants are still able to conduct attacks, showing the difficulties faced by Iraqi Security Forces. It is therefore important for travellers to, and those residing in Iraq, to reassess their security and medical evacuation plans; as recent attacks have shown, no target is off limit to the Islamic State.
Full and extensive journey management planning is vital for any planned travel to Iraq. At the very least, travellers in the vicinity of Mosul will need armed and armoured escorts, as well as Iraqi Security Force escorts if possible. Solace Global would advise all clients travelling throughout Iraq to use travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed, in order to gain rapid access to the security updates. Such technology can also notify others in case an emergency occurs. This is essential in identifying and avoiding areas of high risk in real time, and will enable users to further mitigate the risks arising from travelling in Iraq.
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