Iraqi Forces Face Challenges Against ISIS In Battle For Mosul
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The offensive to take back Iraq's second-largest city from the Islamic State is underway. Mosul has been under the control of that terrorist group for more than two years, and it is home to hundreds of thousands of civilians, as many as a million, trapped between the opposing sides in this battle. To better understand the challenges of retaking Mosul, we're joined by retired Colonel Peter Mansoor on Skype. He served twice in Iraq, including during the surge. Good morning.
PETER MANSOOR: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, you know Mosul. What will it take to drive out ISIS?
MANSOOR: Well, there's two challenges. There's military challenges, and then there is the more critical political challenges, but first to the military challenges. As you mentioned, ISIS has had two years to dig in. They've wired houses to explode. They've planted thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of roadside bombs in the streets. They have a very dedicated and hardcore cadre of fighters, upwards of 5,000, ready to fight to the death for Mosul. And they have pools of oil that they've set on fire to darken the skies to try to make it harder for aircraft to target them. So these are all military challenges that we're all pretty trained and our forces and the Iraqi forces are pretty good at combating. The more important challenges will be the political challenges that follow the end of the battle of Mosul, which is probably weeks and maybe months away.
MONTAGNE: There have been reports in the news of small signs of resistance by local Mosul men against ISIS itself. I'm hearing about the offensive reports that young men in Mosul are calling on each other to rise up against the Islamic State when this battle begins. Do you think if that - something like that occurs that would have any effect on ultimately on how the battle goes? Could they be of help if this is - this happens?
MANSOOR: Obviously, the locals rising up against ISIS is something that we would applaud. I don't think it would have a lot of impact on the outcome of the battle, which is preordained anyway. What it would have an impact on is the aftermath because if the locals are part of the solution to fighting ISIS rather than part of the problem in supporting them, that's obviously a very, very good thing. And after living under ISIS' grip for two years, you can imagine that many locals are probably fed up with its administration. So I think that in small ways this is probably happening, but I would be surprised if it's a large movement.
MONTAGNE: Well, the Red Cross just this morning says it's preparing for enormous civilian casualties, including possibly from chemical attacks, and civilian populations have been talked about as being used as human shields. Is that your expectation?
MANSOOR: It's unlikely that ISIS is going to allow the population to flee. There is one corridor that's been left open to allow the population to move out of the city to the west. But ISIS probably wants a humanitarian catastrophe in Mosul. It's part of their narrative that this is the West versus Islam and see what happens when they support forces that attack us. So the population is likely to suffer a great deal in the upcoming fighting unfortunately.
MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, when you spoke about the political implications - I mean, this is far away, but must be of great concern now - after the battle.
MANSOOR: Well, you have Iraqi army forces, Kurdish peshmerga. You have Turkish forces and Shiite militias all vying for control of the same piece of terrain in the aftermath of the fighting. A political solution to enable a stable government to emerge from the end of the fighting has got to be worked out. And this is probably job number one for our diplomats over there in Baghdad.
MONTAGNE: Well, thank you so much for joining us.
MANSOOR: My pleasure.
MONTAGNE: Colonel Peter Mansoor, now retired, served in Iraq twice, including during the period of the surge in 2007 and '08. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.