The Economist reports: In a series of lightning advances over the past few days, Iraq’s army has seized control of most of western Mosul, the last redoubt of Islamic State (IS) in the country. On March 7th, a day that may have marked a turning point, army units took Mosul’s main government complex, as well as the city’s famous antiquities museum and about half of the old city. The airport had fallen a week or so earlier, and all roads in and out of the city in which the leader of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared his “caliphate” in June 2014 are firmly in government hands.
In the command centre responsible for the eastern half of the city, which was liberated in December, Brigadier Qais Yaaqoub was jubilant. “They are in full collapse now,” he said. “When an army breaks it happens very quickly. Within a week or two, this will all be over.” He may be speaking prematurely, but probably not by much. The liberation of west Mosul, started only last month, has proceeded much faster than expected. That said, the last part of the fighting could be a lot more difficult. IS clings on in the oldest parts of the city, where streets are narrow, making it hard to manoeuvre vehicles and increasing the risk of ambushes and civilian casualties. However, tens of thousands have been able to make their way to safety.
American officers working closely with the Iraqi army estimate that as few as 500 IS fighters now remain in the city, the others having fled or been killed in a devastating campaign of well-targeted air strikes. The evidence is clear from a tour of east Mosul, on the left bank of the Tigris river, which has split the city in two since IS blew up all its five bridges as it fell back.
Residents point out building after wrecked building that had been used by jihadists, only to be knocked out from above. “This was a shopping centre, but Daesh [IS] took it over,” says Muammar Yunnis, an English teacher. “Then the planes destroyed it.” The liberation, he reckons, “could not have been handled better. Some have died, that happens in a war, but the government and the Americans have been careful.”
Driving IS out of the city may come to be seen as the straightforward part, however. Judging by what has happened in east Mosul, rebuilding will be a slow process. Three months after their liberation, east Mosulites are getting fed up. They are still without running water, and the only electricity comes from private generators. [Continue reading…]