American-Iraqi forces push into Mosul

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Aaron McFarland, from 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, bumps knuckles with an Iraqi boy while he provides security during a market assessment at the Cherry Market in Al Karama, Mosul, Iraq on Sep. 17, 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Sarah De Boise/Released)

Sam Falb, Online News Editor

On November 5, the ISIS-occupied city of Mosul was stormed by Iraqi and American troops in a large-scale attempt to take it back from Islamic State militants. Located in northern Iraq, the large city has been occupied by the terrorist organization for about two years, beginning when militants arrived in the region in June 2014, leaving destruction and mass bloodshed in their wake.

Conflict first began when approximately 1,500 ISIS soldiers descended on Iraq’s second largest city, which was manned with a force of 20,000 Iraqi soldiers at the time. While the ratio of Iraqi soldiers to ISIS soldiers would suggest an almost sure victory on the part of the Iraqis, a mix of extreme fear and abandonment of posts led to an ISIS victory, bringing thousands of people and vital trade routes under the Islamic State’s rule, greatly strengthening the caliphate’s influence, power and wealth in the region. The invasion entered its second month on November 17.

“The stakes for all sides are high. For ISIS, Mosul is the most populous and important city it holds. ISIS was the first modern terrorist group to control its own state — and losing Mosul would set the stage for that state’s demise. For the Iraqi government, retaking Mosul is crucial to rebuilding the country,” Buzzfeed news reporter Mike Giglio said.

An estimated 45,000 troops, converging from all Iraqi walks of life, are taking part in the risky maneuver. From Sunni tribal fighters troops and Iran-backed Shiite militia, to Peshmerga soldiers from Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraqi troops, all are putting past differences aside to fight a common enemy.

The first stages of the offensive were put into action on October 17, when Kurdish soldiers first moved towards militant bases along the road to Mosul.

“It feels good. We’re hoping it’s the end of them,” soldier Hazm Khaled said to CNN, as he worked on a Humvee to be driven during the battle.

Many Iraqi soldiers, veterans of the fall of Mosul in 2014, are hoping to find vengeance in this maneuver, and erase the shame they feel for abandoning the city two years ago.

“The guys who ran away are coming back,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, now embedded with local forces around Iraq.

As the invasion has gone on, the Iraqi military has learned just what it means to fight such a large-scale terrorist operation. Soldiers have faced series of suicide bombings and often have trouble telling friend from foe, whether dealing with civilian intel or individuals who may be ISIS fighters in disguise, attempting to blend in with the population by shaving their faces and wearing civilian clothes. However, information from Mosul residents has also proved extremely helpful, and arguably vital to the cause. Citizens inform the military of “Daesh” (the Iraqi term for ISIS militants) fighters’ positions on homes and in neighborhoods, as well as sniper positions and overheard conversations.

“It is (the civilians’) last chance to have a role, not just in [local neighborhoods] but in all of Mosul,” he said outside his home, which had been hit by an Islamic State mortar two days earlier.

As American-Iraqi forces push through the eastern border of the city and multi-national air strikes bomb key targets day by day, and as ISIS militants carry out suicide bombings and sniper attacks in retaliation, the outcome of the largest military assault since the American invasion of the country in 2004 becomes more and more cloudy, with the stakes driving both sides harder and harder to take the vital city.

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