An audio recording of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released Thursday urges terrorists with the group to fight to the death in Mosul. The tape comes as the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have advanced to the city limits in many areas.
While the authenticity of the recording has not been confirmed, Baghdadi warned his fighters that “value of staying on your land with honor is a thousand times better than the price of retreating with shame.” Trying to rally support from other Sunnis, the leader of the self-described caliphate continued to excoriate his usual enemies, “Jews, Christians, Shiite heretics and all nations have allocated their media, all their money, all their equipment, and all their armies to fight against Muslims and jihad fighters…” Even with the areas it controls shrinking, Islamic State still widely exports its hateful propaganda to rally followers.
Back in Mosul, coalition airstrikes – primarily American – continue to support Iraqis on the ground. The Kurdish Peshmerga have retaken villages, such as Bashiqa, on the north and northeast sides of the city. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have advanced on Shura, reaching the Mosul’s city limits on the south and east. The Iraqi Army, Federal Police, and the U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Service have seen the most resistance from Islamic State elements, encountering IEDs, snipers, and suicide car bombings as the advance. About 25,000 fighters comprise the total force fighting Islamic State in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province.
Baghdad has enlisted the help of Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) to help fill the gap south and west of the Mosul. The PMUs have begun advance north to Tal Afar, ultimately cutting cut off an escape route for Islamic State fighters back to Syria. While PMUs operate in Iraq, they are commanded and funded by Iran, ultimately undermining Iraqi sovereignty. Recent reports state that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani had visited the PMU’s headquarters in October. Moreover, coalition forces and human rights groups worry that the PMUs presence will exacerbate sectarian divisions in predominantly Turkmen Tal Afar and with the Sunnis in Mosul. Violence between Shiite militia and the disaffected Sunni population could set the stage for Mosul’s post-Islamic State future.
As counter-terrorism forces begin enter Mosul, commanders have set the expectation that months of urban conflict could ensue, leading to both military and civilian casualties. There have already been reports that Islamic State fighters used civilians as human shields, killing anyone who fails to submit to their will. But ultimately U.S. military leaders have expressed confidence in the coalition’s ability to win in Mosul and have already begun planning the assault on Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, Syria.