By: ISW Iraq Team
The Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga on one side and ISIS on the other side are all setting conditions for a future operation that aims to dislodge ISIS from Mosul. U.S. and Iraqi officials have signalled that such an assault on the city will take place in the months ahead. The operations of the Peshmerga near Mosul appear to be setting the conditions for this assault by contesting areas outside the city. For example, the Peshmerga continued their offensive conditions-setting operation west of Mosul by attacking Iski Mosul village, northeast of Tal Afar, likely to prevent ISIS from using the village as a launching pad for a counter-attack to reverse the recent gains achieved by the Peshmerga on January 21st. In response to these advances, ISIS launched an attack on the Peshmerga in the areas of Tal al-Rim and Sultan Ali, southeast of Mosul, both considered the first line of defense for Iraqi Kurdistan due to their proximity to Arbil. ISIS likely intended to force the KRG to divert resources away from the front west of Mosul. ISIS also severely damaged the Sabuniya Bridge, located on the road that leads to the western entrance of Mosul, in order to prevent anti-ISIS forces from using that route as an avenue of approach for a future assault on the city. ISIS is reportedly seeking to dig a trench around the city for the same purpose. ISIS has almost certainly taken more defensive measures in and around Mosul since it took control of the city in June 2014, although reports about such measures have been recently on the rise. The Kurdish forces are unlikely to be the tip of the spear for the assault into Mosul, but rather aim to set conditions for that operation by clearing areas nearby. Despite repeated statements from Iraqi officials about a nearing assault, Baghdad is allocating effective ISF units to other fronts that need immediate protection like Ramadi, Baghdad, the Baghdad Belts, Haditha, and Diyala, in some cases cooperating with the militias. This disparity between stated priorities and actions likely signals the competition between requirements for the defense of Baghdad and the offensive against Mosul. It also likely suggests that the timeline for clearing the city is months, rather than weeks.