An impending battle to take back the Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS) forces "will be a bloodbath," a top Kurdish counterterrorism official told VOA.
“For two years they (IS militants) have been digging tunnels, for two years they've been planting IEDs, booby-traps, everything,” warned Polad Jangi. “They have kept the population there, some people have fled, but I think 80 percent of the people are still probably there, and they are going to use these people as human shields. How are you going to bomb a building with an ISIS fighter there, but a family in there also?” asked Jangi, using another acronym for the group.
“You're going to have to clean street by street, house by house, room by room. The casualties on both sides are going to be unbelievable,” he added.
Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq, and since 2014 has served as the Islamic State’s center of control for their operations around the country.
In the past weeks, Iraq and the U.S.-led collation have been positioning forces within an hour’s drive of Mosul in anticipation of a fight to retake the city.
US Marines on hand
A U.S. Marine recently killed in an IS rocket attack on Makhmour exposed that the U.S. military had already set up an artillery base 15 kilometers from the IS frontline to support Iraqi forces in their combat operations.
The United States is also conducting daily airstrikes against IS.
But Jangi, who is in charge of counterterrorism operations south of Mosul in the Kirkuk-Suleymania area and works closely with U.S. forces, said President Barack Obama must commit more ground forces.
“Just by dropping bombs you cannot make that much of a difference. We need more troops on the ground,” he said. “He (Obama) knows, if you want to be successful here, he is going to eventually have to start letting people come back in, maybe not the presence that they had here before, but in Syria and Iraq they are going to have to start bringing people in.”
Mosul is mainly Sunni, although there is also a Kurdish pocket. Peshmerga commanders have told VOA that while they will fight to protect what they consider Kurdish land and fellow Kurds, they are less eager to extend their stay in traditionally Sunni areas.
“You can't send Peshmerga forces into an Arab area to take the area and then stay there afterwards,” said Jangi. “They may be happy for you to come and help them take it back, but eventually you're going to have to give it back to those people.”
Officials say negotiations are underway with local Sunni tribes.
Iraq’s national security advisor, Faleh Fayadh, has said the final operation to take Mosul likely would involve Iraqi forces, the Peshmerga, the Popular Mobilization Forces (Iranian-backed militias) and local “volunteers.”
But Fayadh agreed, “We have to take in[to consideration] the sensitivities of the region.”
Kurdish officials say it is imperative that a political agreement between all the parties must be in place before the fight begins.
“Fifty to 60 percent of the liberation operation is political,” said Hemin Hawrami, a member of the ruling Kurdish KDP party.
There is also concern about the Iraqi forces’ ability to effectively hold Mosul after IS militants are routed if the sectarian conflicts that led to the growth of the extremists is not dealt with first.
“The people in the country must understand that something was wrong when Daesh (IS) was able to sweep through the country in almost no time and capture Mosul,” said Jan Kubis, the U.N. special envoy to Iraq. “These are issues that must be addressed,” Kubis told a recent gathering of Iraqi and Kurdish government officials.