The Iraqi Government has been attempting to recapture Mosul since October last year. By the start of March 206,000 people had been displaced from Mosul, but 5,000 Daesh fighters remain. Many camps set up by aid agencies are almost full and will be unable to cope with higher numbers.
650,000 civilians are thought to remain in the city. Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has ordered his fighters to “wreak havoc” in Mosul as a prelude to a Daesh “victory”. Mosul is a diverse city with a Sunni majority, so the recapture by the Shia-dominated Iraqi state will have to be heavily monitored.
After the US troop surge in 2005, Sunni militias and Sunni areas were promised greater political representation and positions in the military and civil society by the post-war Iraqi state. None of that happened, and the Shia sectarian Iraqi state allowed Al Qaeda in Iraq to gain a foothold. When the group — renamed as the Islamic State in Iraq — and al-Sham took Mosul and other districts in Iraq in June 2014, many Sunni Iraqis who had suffered terribly under the state acquiesced, though evidence is that they were fast disillusioned.
Both Shia militias and the Kurdish peshmerga have said they will not enter the city boundary, leaving the official Iraqi army responsible for operations in the city. But the army’s advance into the centre of the city is likely to see further displacement and the potential for sectarian reprisals. The Iraqi Foreign Secretary’s statement that the governance of Mosul must be structured as something “that commands the support of the people of the city” will be of no reassurance given the history of the Iraqi government.
The Iraqi army plans to stop the remaining Daesh fighters from leaving the city, but they are by all accounts starting to prepare themselves to blend in with the local population. That operation could well be an excuse to round up Sunni men.
Those militias that will not enter the city are charged with cutting off the Daesh supply routes. These are led by the Badr Organisation, the largest of the Shia militias and loyal to the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Daesh are continuing suicide attacks against Iraqi troops and according to the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) used chemical weapons causing severe burns to civilians in east Mosul. They have continued to fire chlorine and other chemical weapons in shells at Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the north of the city.
While it is almost impossible for Daesh to defeat the Iraqi troops, the recapture is likely to stretch into the summer. As the weather gets hotter, conditions for civilians will only get worse.