The attacking force includes some 30,000 Iraqi government troops and police, Shiite and Sunni militias and Kurdish peshmerga fighters. They are backed by U.S. airstrikes and special operations troops. London and Paris are also part of the coalition. There are reported to be up to 5,000 Islamic State fighters in Mosul, and up to 1.5 million civilians.
In the first two days, peshmerga captured villages to the east and Iraqi troops to the south, moving to surround the city. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says only Iraqi government troops will enter it. This is to allay fears that Shiite militias might carry out reprisals against the predominantly Sunni population in Mosul.
There are already tensions between the competing forces involved. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, now a vice president, warned that Kurdish forces must not stay in territory they occupy in the march toward Mosul.
As the assault began, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his demand that Turkish troops and planes be involved. Ankara has some 2,000 troops in northern Iraq, which the Iraqi government has demanded be withdrawn.
Ankara is also angry that fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) had been in talks with Baghdad about joining the attack on Mosul. The Turkish government has been waging a military offensive against the PKK in southern Turkey and northern Iraq, where the group has bases. The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, which exports oil through Turkey, also opposes PKK involvement.
The reactionary Islamic State captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in June 2014, along with large swaths of Iraqi territory. At that time, the city had a diverse population of over 2 million. Today IS holds only about 10 percent of Iraqi territory, after losing cities and towns to Kurdish fighters and Iraqi troops and militias. It has also lost substantial ground in Syria.
Bombing of AleppoRussian and Syrian warplanes halted their bombardment of opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 18 ahead of what Moscow announced would be an eight-hour “humanitarian pause.” Russian officials said this would allow civilians and rebels to leave the city. The pause followed an intensification of airstrikes over previous days that had killed scores and continued to reduce much of eastern Aleppo to rubble.
Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Switzerland Oct. 15, despite Washington’s announcement 12 days earlier suspending talks with Moscow on Syria. The next day, Kerry joined U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in London. The two stressed that they see their only course as continuing to seek an agreement with the Russian government.
Johnson noted “a lack of political appetite” on the part of Washington and its allies for “military options” in Syria, and said, “The tools we have are diplomatic.”
Meanwhile, the government of Saudi Arabia admitted Oct. 15 that jets from its coalition had been responsible for an airstrike in Yemen on a funeral ceremony a week earlier. More than 140 people were killed and up to 600 injured in the attack in Sanaa, the capital.
Kerry and Johnson, whose governments back Riyadh in the civil war there, called for a truce. A three-day cease-fire was reported Oct. 18 between the Houthi-led government in Sanaa, which has Tehran’s backing, and the Saudi-led coalition, which backs the deposed government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
A U.S. warship fired cruise missiles at Houthi radar installations in Yemen Oct. 13. The Pentagon said it was retaliation for two missiles fired towards a U.S. warship days earlier. Houthi officials have denied their forces were responsible. While Washington has been supporting the Saudi government with intelligence and military aid, this was the first direct U.S. attack against Houthi forces in Yemen.
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