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The Fight for Iraq
The Mosul Meat Grinder?

The Iraqi Army on Thursday launched a ‘second phase’ of the Mosul offensive after a month-long pause. Reuters reports:

More than 5,000 soldiers and federal police troops, redeployed from Mosul’s southern outskirts, entered half a dozen southeastern districts, while counter-terrorism forces advanced in al-Quds and Karama districts after reinforcements arrived.

Other soldiers pushed simultaneously toward the city’s northern limits. U.S. military advisers were seen watching operations as coalition aircraft circled overhead.

“At 0700 this morning, the three fronts began advancing toward the city center. The operation is ongoing today and tomorrow and until we liberate the eastern side of the city completely,” Lieutenant General Ali Freiji, who was overseeing army operations in the north, told Reuters.

Iraqi forces have taken around half of the eastern side of Mosul, which is bisected by the Tigris river, but have yet to enter the western side, where 2,000-year-old markets and narrow alleyways are likely to complicate any advance.

Anyone thinking that the rest of the city will fall quickly should probably temper their expectations. On Wednesday, Iraq’s president Haider al-Abadi said that retaking the city would take at least three additional months.

But perhaps more notable than the time spent in removing ISIS from Iraq’s second largest city is the blood that is being spilled to do so. The Iraqi government doesn’t announce official casualty figures, but Politico reported earlier this month that at least one U.S.-trained elite unit of the Iraqi army known as the “Golden Division” was taking “upwards of 50 percent casualties” and that “the division could become combat ineffective in a little over a month, and perhaps even sooner.” And if this “second phase” of the battle is more successful than the first it will be because it will apparently involve increased U.S. participation in the fight.

The scale of the intelligence failure here (if that’s what it is) appears to be immense. According to the spokesman for U.S. operations against ISIS, the estimated before the start of the battle was that there were “3,000 to 4,500 ISIS fighters in Mosul”. Since then, the U.S. has claimed that 2,000 ISIS fighters have been “killed or gravely wounded”. Presumably that figure does not include the 600 suicide car bombs that ISIS has used as of December 1st. For those of you have done the math and are wondering if ISIS might only have 400 fighters left in all of Mosul, well, then we’ve got a dam on the Tigris to sell you. All of the above certainly lends some credence to accusations that Team Obama distorted intelligence on ISIS.

Now that the fight is joined anew, we can only hope for the best possible outcome. But the repeated failures of the Obama Administration to appreciate the threat posed by ISIS—from the “jayvee team” remark, to killing 200% of their estimated 2014 strength—bear keeping in mind. The incoming Trump Administration, for all the question marks surrounding its broader strategy, is unlikely to repeat this mistake.

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  • Observe&Report

    The fact that the man fired by Obama for calling out the current administration on its failure to take ISIS seriously is now Trump’s National Security Advisor is surely a positive thing.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Yes and no….there are reasonable objection to Mike Flynn on the basis of his rather poor decision making on non-security issues, but yes, in general his assessment of Obama’s policies is quite solid.

  • Jim__L

    So how does this compare to Stalingrad?

    • Disappeared4x

      Stalingrad was built on the west bank of the Volga, no dam. Mosul is bisected by the Tigris, and the Mosul dam is failing, requiring continuous pumping of grout. In Stalingrad’s winter of 1942, the Russians would have added the grout to wallpaper paste for soup!
      In September, 2016, the Italians started work on remediation – hopefully the Italian soldiers assigned to the project y will bring lots of their scrumptious MREs so no one will try eating grout.
      Mosul Dam is quite a story – the link in this post is from January. Updates at:
      One could argue a great flood that destroys Mosul and Baghdad might be Biblical in nature.

      • ljgude

        Nice comparison! I find myself moved to add that the Nazis, the Communists and the Islamic Sate are all examples of totally committed totalitarian movements while the forces surrounding Mosul are an great mix ranging from equally committed Shite totalitarians through more moderate Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Still it is an urban fight to the finish as was the slaughter on the Volga in the Fall and Winter of ’42 and ’43. Jonathan Spyer has done some very nice reporting from Mosul that goes deeper than the usual MSM coverage and may have more to say before it is over.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The damn dam situation (forgive the pun) in Mosul is bad enough. Unlike Stalingrad, Mosul is essentially cut off, so no resupply for the troops there, no reinforcements, and very little chance for them to escape. The city is honeycombed with tunnels and trenches, bobby-trapped to a degree not seen in any similar environment in the past, and the ISIS forces are as fanatical as anything we have run into short of the Japanese on Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Urban combat tends to be a great equalizer, in that it devalues most of the advanced technologies used by Western militaries (note the biggest exception here is modern medicine), so poorly equipped teenagers can put up a significant fight against well-equipped soldiers. What all of this means is that Mosul is likely to be a bloodbath for both sides, but as ISIS is reasonably comfortable with bloodbaths, it will be a far less serious loss for them.

      As for what should we (the US, and to some extent the rest of the West) do….absolutely nothing, aside from perhaps some fire support and even that is questionable. The Iraqi military is a mess, the government is corrupt and generally pro-Iranian in any case, and the region offers no critical strategic benefit to us at this time. It is not worth a single American life, nor much in the way of other resources, including things as banal as money. Isolating the city and starving it slowly would have made far more sense in the past, but at this point Mosul is nothing but a black hole that will consume manpower and resources at a ferocious rate while allowing nothing of value to escape.

      None of this pleases me to say…ISIS is a group of loathesome reptiles that seriously need exterminating, and the civilians trapped in the city are hostages…but ultimately little can be done that will not make the situation worse, and at a horrific cost.

      • Disappeared4x

        ‘honeycombed with tunnels & booby*-trapped’ sounds like ISIS in Mosul got trained by Hamas in Gaza. [*booby-trapped sounds like a DoJ sexual assault felony, until Jan 21, 2017]

        Ok, transitioning to Good Year 2017; still seeking Happy New Year, and reading this essay at Mosaic helped, URL below. I knew most of it because I read non-USA media, guess I needed a dose of confirmation bias to get to 2017!
        “Everybody Loves Israel: Formerly neutral or hostile countries from across the world, including Saudi Arabia and China, are now eagerly courting the Jewish state. What’s going on?” Arthur Herman November 7, 2016

        • f1b0nacc1

          A very happy new year to you….

      • Dan Jefferies

        Well said … I agree with all but this …”the civilians trapped in the city are hostages.” … The civilians ARE Daesh as far as I’m concerned … To me this “innocent civilian” line is wearing thin…

        • f1b0nacc1

          Many of the folks in Mosul are simply afraid to travel (it *is* a war zone, after all, and as ISIS has the uncomfortable tendency to use civilians as shields, most airstrikes are not terribly picky about what group of vehicles that they destroy), or trying to protect their property. It is hardly reasonable or fair to take people like that and call them Daesh…

  • Kev

    This battle to capture Mosul will last for many months, destroying American reputation in the process. Compare this to the swift and relatively bloodless (for the government forces) liberation of Aleppo – the Russians clearly know they are doing!

    • Dan Jefferies

      Hardly see how it will “destroy our reputation.” … the longer it lasts the longer we can claim we’re protecting “innocent civilians.” rather than the reality of ducking those absolutely horrifying suicide bombers….

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