Alice Fordham spoke Hazhar Zegri, a general in the Kurdish Peshmerga forces on the front line facing ISIS outside Mosul: Zegri invites us for a lunch of roast lamb and okra stew and a talk about ISIS. The group has been running a city of as many as 1.5 million people for a year.
Did he anticipate that at this time last year?
“I didn’t expect it. It’s a lot,” he says. Like many in the semi-autonomous ethnic Kurdish enclave here, he blames the Iraqi government in Baghdad for not coordinating with Kurdish forces to develop a plan to drive out ISIS.
Estimates vary, but analysts, diplomats and military commanders think there are 1,200 or fewer ISIS fighters inside the city. Pro-government forces would easily outnumber them in a battle for Mosul.
But when ISIS held the city of Tikrit, further to the south, just a few hundred of their fighters kept tens of thousands of Iraqi security forces and paramilitaries at bay for weeks.
The Peshmerga say ISIS’ strength lies in the ferocity of their fighters and their willingness to die. It’s hard to fight against a suicide car bombing. And the outskirts of Mosul are now seeded with improvised explosives, surrounded with blast walls and ditches full of oil that could be set alight.
Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition are ongoing against ISIS targets around the city. But the Americans rarely hit populated areas in an effort to avoid civilian casualties. ISIS now avoids main roads, though it still uses small desert tracks for resupply.
“And there are a lot of families,” says Zegri. Humanitarian groups say there is no clear scenario for retaking Mosul that wouldn’t result in massive civilian suffering. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press adds: A high-ranking Obama administration official says it could take at least three to five years for Iraq to overcome the Islamic State group’s onslaught.
Even then, retired Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby says, the effort “has to be owned by the Iraqis.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby appeared on MSNBC a day after President Barack Obama acknowledged the U.S. lacks a “complete strategy” for training Iraqi security forces.