By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service, who has reported from Iraq
MOSUL, IRAQ (ANS – October 17, 2016) — Iraqi forces are “ahead of schedule” following the first day of the battle to retake Mosul, the Pentagon has said.
But Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook warned the fight “could take some time” as it remained to be seen whether so-called Islamic State (IS) would “stand and fight.”
“The coalition of forces launched their push towards the city in the early hours of Monday,” said a BBC report. “IS seized Mosul, then Iraq’s second-largest city, in June 2014. The extremists’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi then chose Mosul as the place to announce the forming of a caliphate, so retaking the city would be ‘symbolic,’ according to Mr. Cook.”
Mr. Cook told reporters in Washington: “Early indications are that Iraqi forces have met their objectives so far, and that they are ahead of schedule for this first day. This is going according to the Iraqi plan — but again, it’s early, and the enemy gets a vote here. We will see whether ISIL [IS] stands and fights.
“We are confident no matter what, however, that the Iraqis have the capabilities to get this job done, and we stand ready to support them, along with the rest of the coalition.”
A coalition of 30,000 Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Sunni tribal fighters began their advance on Ls’s last major stronghold in the country after months of planning on Monday.
It is thought between 4,000 and 8,000 IS fighters remain in Mosul.
The BBC said that as the fighting gets closer to the city, concerns have been raised for the safety of civilians still trapped in the area, with British International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the protection of civilians must be a “paramount concern.”
“Retaking Mosul will be an important step towards defeating Daesh [IS] in Iraq and ending its tyranny over the civilian population in the city,” she said.
“However, with up to one-and-a-half million people still living in the city, it is clear that their protection and wellbeing must be a paramount concern.”
Already, the Iraqi government has dropped thousands of leaflets on Mosul telling residents what to do during the offensive.
“My understanding is that there may be as many as seven million leaflets dropped in the next 48 hours or so to try and educate the population of Mosul as to the safest way to conduct themselves as this fighting plays out,” Mr. Cook said.
The BBC understands that British aircraft have also been involved in Monday’s coalition air strikes on Mosul.
Nightmare for Christians in Mosul
Life for the Christians in Mosul had been and nightmare after IS took over the city, and most, if not all, have fled the city and are living in refugee camps.
A Chaldean-American leader described it at that time as “a Christian holocaust is in our midst.” In an interview with CNN’s Jonathan Mann, he said “children are being beheaded, mothers are being raped and killed, and fathers are being hung.”
The barbaric radical Islamic group has executed more than 11,000 people in “Iraq and Syria since its establishment of a self-proclaimed caliphate in June 2014.”
IS captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in that month. For over 2,000 years, Christians and Muslims lived peacefully with each other. But when ISIS invaded, the Christians were told to either leave, convert, or pay a subjugation tax. They kidnapped the majority of the females to sell on their sex slave market while they slaughtered the males in front of their families.
“It is like going back 1,000 years seeing the barbarity that Christians are having to live under. I think we are dealing with a group which makes Nazism pale in comparison and I think they have lost all respect for human life,” explained Patrick Sookhdeo, founder of Barnabas Fund in the UK.
“Crucifying these people is sending a message and they are using forms of killing which they believe have been sanctioned by Sharia law. For them what they are doing is perfectly normal and they don’t see a problem with it. It is that religious justification which is so appalling.”
In July 2014, Andrew White, the then vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq, told BBC Radio 4 that Christianity is coming to an end in the Middle Eastern country.
“Things are so desperate, our people are disappearing,” he said. “We have had people massacred, their heads chopped off. The Christians are in grave danger. There are literally Christians living in the desert and on the street. They have nowhere to go.”
“Are we seeing the end of Christianity?” he continued. “We are committed come what may, we will keep going to the end, but it looks as though the end could be very near.”
Christians have spoken out about the treatment they endured from IS. They claim that Islamic State has destroyed churches and statues of Jesus Christ and the black flag in Mary’s place. Terrorists robbed the Christians at checkpoints, taking the earrings women were wearing.
“There is not a single Christian family left in Mosul,” said Bashar Nasih Behnam, who left with his two children. “The last one was a disabled Christian woman. She stayed because she could not get out. They came to her and said you have to get out and if you don’t we will cut off your head with a sword. That was the last family.”
After IS took Mosul, the homes of many Christians were painted with Nun the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet, the way Muslims have called Christians since the beginning of their invasion of the Christian world in the 7th century — Christians under Muslim rule never called themselves thus, since the intent of Muslims was to portray Christians as a contemptible and disobedient sect.
Who is fighting?
About 30,000 pro-government troops are involved in the operation. The main assault is being led by Iraqi army troops.
About 4,000 Kurdish fighters are trying to clear villages to the east of Mosul, to allow the army to move in.
Its capture became a symbol of the group’s rise as a major force and its ability to control territory. It was there that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The city was one of Iraq’s most diverse, comprising ethnic Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmens, as well as a variety of religious minorities.
While members of those minorities largely fled the onslaught by IS, many local Sunni Arabs initially welcomed the militants, angered by the sectarian policies of the previous Shia Arab-led central government.
But after two years of brutal IS rule, opposition has reportedly grown inside Mosul.
“Even if IS is driven out of Mosul, the group will still control areas of northern and eastern Iraq,” said the BBC.
Up to 100,000 Iraqi civilians may flee to Syria and Turkey to escape the military assault in Mosul, the UN says.
Many are expected to be caught in the fighting. There are fears that residents could be used as human shields by IS.
As many as a million people could be forced to flee their homes.
Most are expected to leave “with only the clothes on their backs,” Becky Bakr Abdulla of the Norwegian Refugee Council told the AFP news agency.
Photo captions: 1) Preparing for the battle for Mosul by moving out local villagers. 2) IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaims caliphate. (BBC). 3) The child of a Christian family being terroized by IS. 4) Sign put on the homes of Mosul Christians. 5) A Christian refugee woman from Mosul in prayer. 6) Dan Wooding reporting from outside the Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil, just 51 miles from Mosul.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is the author of some 45 books, and has been a full-time journalist since 1968. While still based in London, Dan Wooding was a senior reporter for two of Great Britain’s largest-circulation newspapers, and was an interviewer for BBC Radio One and also for LBC, the capital city’s main commercial talk station. Dan now has a weekly radio show and two TV shows all based in Southern California. He has reported from all over the Middle East, including from Northern Iraq.
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