American officials report that the battle to take Mosul has cost the Iraqi security forces about 800 dead and nearly 5,000 wounded since the battle began in October 2016. There are about 100,000 soldier, police and militia men involved in the operation but only about a quarter of these have been regularly involved in combat. The UN estimates that 300 civilians have been killed in Mosul in the last month. It’s difficult to get an accurate count until the battle is over and all the rubble searched and survivors questioned. The UN is urging major donor states to provide the cash needed to take care of all the Mosul refugees. So far less than ten percent of the money has been provided. The UN does not like to publically discuss the main reason for shortfall. It is corruption with donors increasingly unwilling to donate to relief efforts in nations where the corruption is so bad that most of the aid gets stolen.
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has lost control of about 80 percent of west Mosul, meaning that they only hold less than ten percent of the city. The most dangerous of these areas is the “Old City” with its ancient buildings, narrow streets and many alleys. There are still several hundred thousand civilians living there and the advancing troops fear ISIL is concentrating in the Old City for a last stand. That means the advancing troops face a long battle to clear the crowded area. It can be done fast but the attackers would take heavier losses and more damage would be done to the Old City and more of its inhabitants would be killed.
In Mosul the remaining ISIL fighters seem inexperienced and disorganized. But they are not stupid and know of plans and preparations for this stage of the battle. Throughout 2016 ISIL leaders ordered the stockpiling of food, water and ammo at hundreds of positions in addition to planting thousands of mines, explosive traps and remotely controlled bombs. This included explosive vests for suicide bombers and vehicles equipped with explosives. Many of these suicide bomber explosives were equipped with a remote control detonator, in case the bomber panicked or was otherwise unwilling or unable to detonate. Many of these preparations are known to the advancing troops and the Iraqis have used training, equipment and even some frontline advisors, to detect and avoid most of these traps and suicide bombers. Despite that at least half the casualties among the attackers have been from these “prepared” defenses. Nevertheless the impact of these prepared defenses was a lot less than ISIL expected.
Since the start of the year ISIL fighters have been seen kidnapping women and children to use as human shields. Those who refuse to cooperate are often killed and their bodies left in the street as a warning to others. In some areas those caught trying to leave are killed on the spot. As troops advance they have been finding mass graves of these victims but many of the bodies are dumped in abandoned or bombed out buildings making it difficult to get a quick count. Troops remark that they can smell when they are in ISIL controlled areas because there are more unburied bodies, usually of civilians killed by ISIL. Few civilians have been killed by advancing troops or air strikes and those who are get publicized by the remaining ISIL fighters. Since mid-March a growing number of people in ISIL held parts of Mosul have not been able to get food. As areas are liberated the advancing soldiers are noting the impact of the growing hunger. Not surprisingly many of the liberated civilians are quick to provide information they may have about local ISIL defenses and recent activities. Since the Iraqi troops leading the advance tend to include a lot of special operations troops the civilian tips are usually quickly collected and put to use.
In February American intel analysts estimated ISIL had only about 12,000 armed members in Syria and Iraq. That number has shrunk to 10,000 or less and only about a thousand are left in downtown Mosul (the Old Town and densely built areas). This means ISIL has lost at least half the armed personnel it had in early 2016. Most of the remaining ISIL fighters appear to be in Syria or trying to get there. In Iraq where are about 2,000 ISIL fighters operating in smaller concentrations along the border trying to keep roads open to Syria. A thousand or more are in still smaller groups in or near cities to plan, prepare and carry out terror attacks and a thousand are basically trapped in the ten percent of Mosul that the Islamic terrorists still control. Police and pro-government militias providing security in areas cleared of ISIL fighters are noting small numbers of these Islamic terrorists showing up. Some appear to be trying to get away armed rather than try and pass as a civilian refugees. Most of the ISIL fighters left in the city are young men from other countries. These would stand out to anyone guarding a checkpoint and would not withstand interrogation. So these foreigners not inclined to desert to the enemy remains a threat as they seek a way to get out undetected. When spotted these men, individually or in small groups, will fight. To make matters worse some of the soldiers and militiamen at the checkpoints will accept a bribe to let unarmed ISIL men pass.
At the start of April about 400,000 civilians remained in ISIL controlled parts of Mosul. As troops advance and drive ISIL away most civilians are eager, or at willing, to go to a refugee camp until the remaining ISIL gunmen, explosives, dead bodies and rubble can be cleared away and basic services (water, sanitation, power) can be restored. Since late March over 10,000 civilians a day are arriving at refugee camps.
April 2, 2017: In March 543 civilians and five police were killed by Islamic terrorist related activities compared to 392 civilians and 26 police in February and 382 civilians and 21 police in January. The civilian deaths were up 42 percent in March compared to February and this is largely because of the fighting in and around Mosul. Two-thirds (67 percent) of the civilian deaths were in or near Mosul (Nineveh province). Baghdad suffered 15 percent of the dead while Salahaddin province (between Baghdad and Mosul) and western Iraq (Anbar province) accounted for most of the remaining 18 percent. Most of the deaths in Nineveh province were related to the effort to drive ISIL out of Mosul. Baghdad was usually where most civilian deaths took place and it still a major target for suicide bombing efforts, usually in Shia neighborhoods. Not surprisingly there have been fewer ISIL bombings in Baghdad and other usual targets because ISIL is in bad shape. Prisoners and deserters report low morale and panic among many of the less resolute members.
ISIL has largely been driven out of Anbar over the last year but because Anbar has a lengthy Syrian border and is south of Nineveh province, it remains active. As usual there was few if any civilian deaths in the Kurdish north or the Shia dominated south (Basra). It may be years before an accurate death toll for the Mosul operation can be compiled. It depends on how many ISIL administrative records are captured. ISIL did maintain statistics on executions and civilian deaths it knew about but the relentless and continuing bombing destroyed a lot of records as did ISIL, in some cases, as they withdrew administrative personnel from Mosul in the last few months.
Iraqi Data on military losses stopped being provided in December. This apparently had to do with fear of how bad it would be for morale (and the prospects of reelection for politicians) if the extent (higher than expected) military losses have been since late 2016, when the offensive against ISIL went into high gear. The government did continue to report civilian losses. For 2016 total civilian deaths were 6,878, which was less than 2015. In early December it was revealed that terrorism related deaths rose in November, especially for the security forces. Overall losses in November were 2,885 dead which was 61 percent more than October. Most of the 1,959 November deaths among soldiers, police and militia were from the fighting in and around Mosul. These losses were more than triple security forces deaths in October, when there 1,792 Iraqi deaths (civilian and security forces) from terrorist (mainly ISIL inspired) violence. The government underestimated the public outcry over the losses among military personnel involved in the Mosul campaign. Total deaths for 2016 were expected to be 10-20 percent lower than the 13,400 in 2015 but instead the 2016 losses were 5-10 percent higher. Losses in 2014 were 15,600. Until 2013 when 8,900 died, the Islamic terrorist problem seemed under control. It wasn’t and since 2014 it has been an uphill struggle. While 2015 was 14 percent less deadly than 2014 both years were much less than the worst year. That was 2007 when nearly 18,000 died. Then as now the main cause of the mayhem and murder was Sunni fanatics who want to run the country as a Sunni dictatorship.
March 31, 2017: In the northwest (Anbar), on the Syrian border, Iraqi warplanes attacked an ISIL convoy near the town of al Qaim and killed Ayad al Jumaili (the ISIL “War Minister”) along with several other senior ISIL leaders. Jumaili was believed to be next in line to replace ISIL founder Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, whose health status has been a mystery for months. Baghdadi appears to still be alive but may have been badly injured in one of the many airstrikes directed at ISIL leadership. Al Qaim is the main border crossing between Iraq and Syria and is often the scene of battles and airstrikes. Compound in area are often used to shelter convoys of vehicles carrying the ISIL personnel between Raqqa and Mosul.
March 25, 2017: In the northwest (Anbar), on the Syrian border, a coalition airstrike destroyed a vehicle carrying Ibrahim al Ansari, the ISIL “propaganda minister” and at least four key members of the ISIL propaganda team. These men were responsible to maintaining the ISIL recruiting and propaganda efforts. This operation has been a frequent target of airstrikes and casualties among known members of the propaganda ministry have been high even though none of these radicalized Internet geeks is expected to serve in combat or as a suicide bombers.
March 24, 2017: In the Kurdish north (Derecik, near the Turkish border) Turkish special operations forces killed six PKK members. Just across the border in Turkey a similar operation was able to capture two PKK members. The PKK resumed their war with Turkey in July 2015 and since then some 10,000 PKK members and supporters have been killed, captured, arrested or surrendered. Total deaths so far have been over 1,200, including Turkish security forces and civilians.
March 12, 2017: In the north, outside Mosul, Shia militia drove ISIL forces out of a prison the Islamic terrorists had captured in late 2014. Acting on reports from refugees the militiamen searched and found a mass grave where several hundred Shia prisoners had been massacred when ISIL decided they needed the cells for other uses.
March 8, 2017: In Iraq one of the many Iran backed (recruited, equipped, trained and sometimes led) Shia militias has declared itself “Golan Liberation Brigade” and announced plans to go fight Israel to regain the Golan Heights for Syria. The Iraqi government has forbidden Iraqi Shia militia from entering Syria and so far that order has been followed. But in the recent past Iraq has announced similar prohibitions for Iranian activities in Iraq and those prohibitions were ignored. This includes American requested bans on Iranian use of Iraqi air space or roads to move weapons or military personnel into Syria.