ISIL’s Mosul strategy
The Mosul Operation started on Oct. 16. Till now, we discussed the issue from the viewpoint of the strategies conducted by the Iraqi Army, the Peshmerga and the coalition forces.
This time we will look into the red forces. What will the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) do? How will they defend the city?
Here is ISIL’s Mosul strategy in light of the information provided by a US military official who focuses on the movements of ISIL.
For the moment, there is an average level of resistance; it is only the beginning of the war; however, the clashes will get fiercer as the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga approach Mosul. This is because the group has been preparing for this siege for a long time. They dug trenches all over the city. They have prepared to set oil wells on fire in order to obstruct airstrikes. They have deployed booby traps on roads. They built tunnels for safe mobility.
There are between 3,000 and 5,000 ISIL militants in Mosul. About 1,000 of them are foreign fighters, the ones who burnt their passports and have nowhere to go and ready to fight until they die. Some other militants are local Sunnis who have weaker ties to the group. The remaining are the main components of ISIL, groups that act according to the tactics of the group. There are also kids aged between 12 and 15 who hold on to the doctrine too.
The most important question is to what extent they will resist. There are 1 million homes in Mosul; which is why there hasn’t been a full siege around the city and the road leading to Tal Afar is open. ISIL militants can leave the city via this road. As a matter of fact, some leaders have been reported to have already left. But the leader heading the war is still in the city.
Another critical question is the possible stance the people will take during the siege. For instance, at al-Hawl where the Iraqi army captured on Oct. 17, people revolted and killed many ISIL militants before the soldiers entered the village. There is no such tendency in Mosul yet. Actually, on the contrary, there could be some who support ISIL. This balance could be the most important factor determining the duration of the war.
They will stage attacks outside Mosul during the siege. They want to distract the attention of the sieging forces, force them to move and weaken the siege.
ISIL may also play the Turkey card and try to draw Ankara into the clashes by staging attacks at risky and critical locations in the region.
They will lose Mosul sooner or later, but they will not finish; because then, they will turn to their “classic terror acts” of assassinations, bombings and suicide attacks. They will continue with their idea of territorial control in Syria. However, even though in Iraq all anti-government armed forces have been consolidated, in Syria there are several different radical groups, whom some of them are fighting ISIL. This too will constitute another difficulty for ISIL.
Losing Mosul will strike a major blow to ISIL in terms of financing. They made $500 million in 2015 from oil sales. They sold their oil to the people living in the region they were in control of. They also made $360 million from tax revenues. When they lose the largest city they are controlling, these figures will decline; thus lessening their operational power.
It is known that they are developing chemical weapons capabilities in Mosul University. For this reason, the Americans have distributed 24,000 gas masks to the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga. On the other hand, there is no foreseen risk of them producing a nuclear bomb. Likewise, for them to blow the Mosul Dam is unlikely. They would need extensive amounts of explosives; there is no information regarding any preparations of such explosives.
In conclusion, Mosul will not be easy because just as how the Iraqis, the Peshmarga and the coalition are working, the red forces also have prepared very well for this war.
For the moment, Turkey is out of the game, there are no deals struck with Iraq and no progress is expected in the short -run either.
However, if Turkey steps in despite all these, it will not be due to Iraq’s invitation but it will be because of ISIL’s provocative acts.