Monday, March 27, 2017

Mosul Campaign Day 161, March 26, 2017


It’s gotten to the point that the Iraqi forces (ISF) are actively spreading disinformation about the Jadida air strike incident in west Mosul. The Joint Operations Command issued a statement saying on March 17 a unit from the Golden Division called in a Coalition air strike to take care of an Islamic State car bomb. After clearing the area they found that the Islamic State had herded civilians inside a booby-trapped house packed with explosives and detonated it. There were no signs of damage coming from the air in the building. A large car bomb also detonated next to the house. In total 61 bodies were taken out of the rubble. The problem with this story is that this took place in Resala, not Jadida. Since news of this incident came out the ISF has been denying that it happened. This is part of the government’s propaganda campaign where no casualties are reported. When deadly events like this do happen the authorities seek to discredit it, but it just shows that Baghdad is not a reliable source in these matters.

In Jadida itself more information is coming out about the tragedy that happened there. Basma Baseem the head of Mosul’s local council aired a video of the damage done. The security forces then banned her from entering west Mosul. The civil defense chief general Mohammed Mahmoud confirmed that it was an air strike that caused the destruction. Some residents and have said that they saw what they thought was a car or a truck bomb next to the houses. The Iraqi forces have also mentioned that a vehicle bomb caused most of the casualties not aircraft. There is no crater in the road that such a device would leave behind however. People on the ground in the area have mentioned that before. Iraqi officers continued to say that talk of heavy casualties in the incident were an exaggeration. Again it was the ISF that was obfuscating the situation, as a provincial health official told Reuters that 160 people who had been dug out of the debris were officially buried so far. Yesterday local authorities said a total of 240 people had died in the buildings. Finally, the Iraqi forces have continued to try to keep journalists out of the area to report on what happened. Despite these restrictions and ISF denials the international press at least is providing plenty of details. That’s not so apparent inside Iraq where most of the press reporting is dominated by government releases.

Al Jazeera and the Guardian tried to provide some added background to the bombings going on in west Mosul. Both talked with families who had survived air strikes. They talked about how the blasts destroyed their homes and cost the lives of their family members. This is an almost everyday experience, but is only now getting a lot of press because of what happened in Jadida. Local authorities told the United Nations that aircraft killed around 500 civilians during the fourth week of March.

March 25 the ISF announced the halt of their operations in west Mosul because of Jadida, but that too was not true. They made advance that day, and on March 26 as well. The Federal Police and Rapid Reaction Division were still making slow progress trying to take the Nuri Grand Mosque near the Tigris River, and attacked the Baran area. According to the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights the Islamic State seized 197 children and took them to the mosque to be used as human shields. The Wadi Ain and Rajim al-Hadid neighborhoods were officially declared freed by the Golden Division. That unit claimed they took both on March 22. Overall, the ISF have only made minimal progress in the Old City since it assaulted it a few weeks ago. The dense layout, the narrow streets, and Islamic State defenses have all complicated the fighting. The stalemate is leading the ISF to re-evaluate its strategy. They did this before when things slowed in east Mosul and successfully came up with a new game plan to regain the initiative. What appears to be happening is that the police forces are continuing their push into the Old City, while the Golden Division are moving north on the other side of the city bypassing the district perhaps to attack it from the flank or surround it.

To the west of Mosul, the 9th Division and Hashd took a cement factory and dam in the Badush district. These forces were originally supposed to attack Mosul from the west and open a third front, but they have been in Badush for weeks now. If they make a drive on the city, they could help change the dynamic.

East Mosul is liberated but the insurgents are constantly shelling it. On March 26 they hit a market in Nabi Younis, and there might have been a suicide bomber involved as well, but that was only in one source. The end result was 16 dead and 43 wounded. Since all the focus is on the battle for west Mosul little is said about these mortar attacks on the east unless there are a lot of casualties like happened in Nabi Younis.

The United States is sending a new army unit to assist the Iraqi forces in Mosul. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne will be deploying to Ninewa soon. Officially there are around 5,200 American troops in Iraq right now, but the real figure is closer to 6,000. Under President Trump these units are now able to forward deploy, and be more active in their assistance to the ISF. They are also training the Iraqi army and police, providing artillery support, and largely running the supply system for the Iraqis.

The Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development went to seven neighborhoods in west Mosul during the start of March to report on the conditions there. They were all in the same situation with food shortages, markets and shops being open, but many lacked a lot of goods, and few people could buy anything because they had little cash and there were few jobs available. The water and electricity networks are also down. Most of the areas, but not all were getting some sort of aid from non-government organizations, the United Nations, and the Kuwaiti or Iraqi governments. It has been little reported, but Kuwait has been providing assistance to Ninewa since the start of the campaign in October 2016. The problem is that none of these groups are providing enough to meet demand. Much has been made of business trying to re-start in east Mosul, but with no real working economy or services there can only be limited progress. The government needs to get the water, electricity, and sanitation systems up, get government workers back in, pay the ones that are already there, and start rebuilding. Until that happens, nothing much will really change. This is a big problem because there is a growing resentment amongst the population that Baghdad is not doing enough.

A little followed story is that there has been looting going on in Mosul. The Interior Ministry said it arrested a group of four men in the Quds neighborhood wearing military uniforms that were robbing people. This followed a report yesterday that gangs were going through abandoned buildings in both sections of the city stealing. There have also been reports that real members of the ISF and local officials were seizing goods as well.

Finally, the United Nations found that the displacement crisis was on going. Officially there are 273,720 displaced (IDPs) in Ninewa. The real figure is probably higher. From March 23-24 26,881 people arrived at the main screening center in Hamam al-Alil where the ISF send people fleeing west Mosul. Most said they were leaving because of the fighting, specifically air strikes. Many were entering the town injured. People who are cleared are being sent to camps south and east of Mosul. The problem is these camps are overflowing. There are two camps that have room, but civilians arriving there told the U.N. that the authorities were not providing information or much transportation to them. There are now hundreds of people squatting and camping around Hamam al-Alil. They are waiting for the U.N. to open a new camp there. They don’t want to go to the other areas because they want to stay as close to west Mosul as possible so they can return to their homes when it is safe. The number of people flowing out of the city is overwhelming the government, aid agencies and the facilities they have prepared for them. Baghdad told people to stay inside of Mosul because it knew neither it nor the U.N. could take care of them. The intensity of the battle however, and thousands of people being dragged into the city from surrounding towns to be used as human shields has led to a large exodus. To add to the IDPs hardships there has been bad weather for the last few weeks meaning people have to slog through mud and those not in camps are living in the rain. With only about 40-50% of west Mosul liberated many more civilians are going to come out meaning things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

SOURCES

Adel, Loaa, “Nineveh Police arrests robbery gang wearing military uniform in eastern Mosul,” Iraqi News, 3/26/17

Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, “Mosul Neighborhood Snapshot: Al Jadeda Al Mufte March 7, 2017,” 3/7/17
- “Mosul Neighborhood Snapshot: Al Masarif March 17, 2017,” 3/17/17
- “Mosul Neighborhood Snapshot: Al Mharbin March 17, 2017,” 3/17/17
- “Mosul Neighborhood Snapshot: Al Muthana March 17, 2017,” 3/17/17

Al Alam, “Iraq Investigates Fatal US-Led Airstrikes in Western Mosul,” 3/26/17

Balkiz, Ghazi and Dewan, Angela, “US-led strike caused civilian deaths in Mosul, Iraqi official says,” CNN, 3/26/17

Bas News, "Iraqi Forces Liberate 4 More Areas in West Mosul," 3/26/17
- “IS Captures Nearly 200 Children in Mosul to Use Them As Human Shields,” 3/26/17
- "Mosul: Iraqi forces Liberate Badush Dam," 3/26/17
- "Nine Civilians Killed and Dozens Wounded in IS Attack on East Mosul," 3/26/17

BBC, “Mosul offensive: Iraq denies air strike caused civilian deaths,” 3/26/17

Beck, John, “Grief and questions amid wreckage of Mosul air strikes,” Al Jazeera, 3/26/17

Chulov, Martin, “Shell-shocked Mosul survivors tell of intense airstrikes,” Guardian, 3/26/17

deGrandpre, Andrew, “Another escalation in Iraq: The U.S .Army sends new reinforcements to Mosul,” Military Times, 3/26/17

Face Iraq, "Security sources: the death of 16 civilians and wounding 43 others by mortar shells by Daesh terrorists," 3/26/17

Hassan, Hamuda and Davison, John, “Conflicting casualty figures a week after Iraq Mosul blast,” Reuters, 3/26/17

Al Jazeera, “In west Mosul, ‘nowhere is safe for civilians,’” 3/26/17

Kittleson, Shelly, “Iraqi federal police forces take on key role in west Mosul,” Al Monitor, 3/26/17

Al Maalomah, "Al-Harbi: Dozens of terrorists were killed and a number of car bombs destroyed in Mosul," 3/26/17

Markey, Patrick, “Iraqi forces pause Mosul push over concern for civilian casualties,” Reuters, 3/25/17

Morris, Loveday and Salim, Mustafa, “Rescue workers find 101 bodies in Mosul building destroyed in alleged U.S.-led strike,” Washington Post, 3/26/17

Murdock, Heather, “Mosul Family: The Day We Lost Everything,” Voice of America, 3/25/17

New Sabah, “Daesh shelling areas and booby trapping homes and buildings,” 3/26/17
- “Joint operations the killing of civilians in Mosul was by bombs that destroyed several houses,” 3/26/17

NINA, "Anti-Terrorism Liberate Two Areas In Central Mosul," 3/22/17

Reuters, “Iraqi military says 61 bodies pulled from collapsed Mosul site,” 3/26/17

Rudaw, "Four killed, dozens injured in ISIS mortar attacks in East Mosul," 3/26/17

Shafaaq News, "Iraqi forces repel two attacks by Daesh, one in a liberated district in Mosul and the other north of Tikrit," 3/26/17

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “Iraq Situation: UNHCR Flash Update – 25 March 2017,” 3/25/17

Xinhua, “Iraqi forces free new areas from IS in western Mosul,” 3/26/17
- “Iraqi military blames IS for killing dozens of civilians in western Mosul,” 3/26/17

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