“Islamic State fighters on Wednesday kept up their fierce defense of the southern approaches to Mosul,” Reuters reports, “which has held up troops on the southern front and forced an elite army unit east of the city to put its more rapid advance on hold.”
The battle for Mosul, which launched on October 17 and is being spearheaded by the Iraqi military, is expected by most analysts to last weeks, if not months. The United States, which leads a coalition backing the effort, spoke highly of Iraq’s ability to lead the fight at the start of the campaign. But after a week and a half of fighting, ISIS (Daesh) militants have shown they won’t be driven from Mosul easily.
“As Iraqi forces move closer to Mosul, we see that Daesh resistance is growing stronger,” Major Chris Parker, coalition spokesperson, said.
Going beyond sheer ability, some Kurdish fighters, who make up around 10,000 of the 50,000 soldiers taking part in the Iraqi-led campaign, are beginning to doubt whether the Iraqis have the will to get the job done.
“After the first day, the Iraqi army was unable to take a single meter of (Islamic State) territory successfully,” Kurdish Colonel Mahdi Younis told USA Today. “No one should expect the least success from the Iraqi army. They have no will to fight.”
Campbell MacDiarmid, the USA Today journalist who was interviewing Younis in his office at an outpost 70 miles south of Mosul, noted a pile of cell phones on the colonel’s desk.
“Deserters,” Younis told MacDiarmid, explaining that the devices were taken off Iraqi soldiers trying to get past checkpoints. In the hallway outside Younis’ office, men were standing against the wall, McDiarmid reports in the article.
“These are the lions which escaped,” Younis said of the men.
Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy called the early stages of the battle for Mosul a “wobble” while pointing out to USA Today that the Kurds — who are now questioning Iraq’s ability to lead the fight — were, themselves, purged from Mosul by ISIS last year.
“Now the Iraqi army is facing the same challenges trying to push forward into the same terrain,” he said.
Whatever the hardships, however, Iraq has pledged to see the job through.
“These forces that are liberating you today,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the residents of Mosul as the campaign launched, “they have one goal in Mosul, which is to get rid of Daesh and secure your dignity. God willing, we shall win.”
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