For me the battle for the liberation of the Western part of Mosul began with a bumpy trip in an armored “Hummer” along with two Abaasy. “I Abaas number one. He Abaas number two,” he said in English smiling driver Abaas Alsamawi (Abaas Almsebawy) pointing the finger at the standing arrow.
“I killed two Daisy said Abaas number two, referring to the militants of the so-called “Islamic state” (banned in Russia organization — approx. TRANS.). Well, exactly the same. The second crawled, but he was heavily bleeding. I was later told that he died.”
The first Abaas jealous of the second. He received two bullets of ISIS militants in the city of Ramadi in Central Iraq. One still sits in his back. “The doctor said it was a gift to me from the Dais,” he told me Abaas and I laughed.
Shouting down artillery and mortar fire, Abaasy communicated with each other, indicating the direction with purpose. In the air constantly cries: “Aaaaas!” One of them was from Babylon, the second from Baghdad. During breaks between battles they spread a blanket inside the vehicle, fit and fast asleep, oblivious to the sharp edges and mortar fire from the outside.
Abaasy participated in the battles in the Eastern part of the city, on the liberation which lasted 100 days. Released during heavy street fighting, house by house, street by street despite cars and trucks with explosives that were sent to them by ISIS militants. But the liberation of the Western half of Mosul, which began on February 19 with the onset of the Iraqi division of emergency response (HDR) in cooperation with counter-terrorism forces, is different — and much faster.
Driver Abaas rapidly happy. In the sky flew Iraqi military helicopters, aircraft at low level flight poured machine-gun and rocket fire of the village, and he was moving forward along with advancing on a broad front troops. His “hammer” was well adapted for movement in that terrain, and high speeds traveled in the wilderness in the direction of the suburbs of Mosul, local airport and then the city itself.
In this occurrence there were other features. Formally coming were not soldiers; they were officers. Abaas number one fought in the hoodie and leather jacket. Gunner Abas II was similar to Partizan from the last century in his coat, round glasses and a knitted cap. First — lean and broad-shouldered, the second — thick and chubby. They were complete opposites, but at the same time, were a single entity.
Abaasy fought in the division of emergency response, which led the offensive in the West of Mosul. From the East came the glorious Union on combating terrorism called “Golden division”. HDRS under the Ministry of internal Affairs, it experienced less connection, the younger brother of “Golden division”, but its fighters are sure that Western Mosul will be their trophy. The division advanced rapidly, winning the LIH one village after another, and the soldiers took selfies near lying on roadsides dead bodies of the enemy.
The closer was Mosul, the more charred corpses. That’s two in a ditch, killed by mines. Two more on the way. The motorcycle on which they were riding cut in half in air strikes.
The 1st brigade was commanded by Colonel Falah al-Abdan (Falah al-Wabdan). In 2015, Falaha with part of it cut off and surrounded the militants, and to escape they had when their rescue came reinforcements.
Standing among the ruins of the Palace that belonged to one of the brothers of Saddam Hussein, the Colonel watched Mosul, which was clearly. “I’ll be very happy when my troops move forward, he said. — And I’ll be glad if I see that my soldiers safe and sound. But I will be happy when we destroy ISIS. They’re like an infection in our body, which we are eliminating day by day.”
From there, Iraqi troops went on the offensive and took Abu-safe, then the result is a six-hour fight freed what was left from Mosul airport. Its runway was destroyed and the building was in ruins. But it was the last stretch of open countryside to the city. By the end of the week troops of Colonel Falah broke through the defense of ISIS. Now they entered the narrow streets of the old town. Meanwhile, the elite “gold division” was on the minor direction, since in the course of heavy fighting, its offensive bogged down.
The rivalry between the two divisions helped to hasten. However, HDR had a secret weapon. “We need to ask your men to cease fire, sir. We have helicopters in the air,” said Iraqi Lieutenant Colonel officer of the American special forces, standing on the roof and watching the attack on Abu-safe.
Iraqi mortar men, set your guns down in the orchard and an olive grove, stopped shooting. After that, coalition aircraft began air strikes, and only three or four kilometers away in the air rose the huge gray cloud.
Fight and die in battle with ISIS mostly Iraqis, but because the Pentagon last year amended the rules of warfare, today on the front line and near it you can see more and more Americans. They cause the aircraft for air strikes and fire from their armored vehicles with enhanced mine protection. These people do not wear uniform, but still highly visible on their helmets and they have the stars and stripes. When they fit journalists and especially cameramen, these people turn their backs on them.
Inside Mosul and around today quite often get caught in traffic from American cars. It’s either artillery or a of group of mine clearing of the paths of motion. Soon the Pentagon will respond to the call of the President of Donald trump to make a new plan for the revitalization of the American action against ISIS, but in the vicinity of this city and within it the Americans are much more likely to engage in a firefight with insurgents.
This area is also the British special forces, but in small quantities. Unlike American counterparts, the British are seen.
In addition, at the beginning of the offensive here was not visible to the civilian population. Three days passed before I met the first villager. He was a shepherd Ali Sultan Ali (Ali Sultan Ali), who told me that was only due to the fact that he was not able to overtake the herd to a safe place, because the nearby bridge was destroyed.
Observing the grazing sheep, Ali explained: “They continued to attack the area and we are already three days sit at home because of attacks and mortars can’t go out. All the people, they went away one by one. They went to the Eastern part of Mosul, and now they rent a house there, because there’s too much fighting”.
From the Western part of Mosul fled almost 60 thousand people. In this area, with its population of three quarters of a million fighting can lead to a humanitarian disaster. In the refugee camps as space is available, but they fill up quickly.
From ISIS in Mosul from 500 to several thousand fighters, who once again used the local population as human shields. Strikes by coalition aircraft heavy losses and the civilian population. According to official statements of the coalition group led by the US, with November as a result of air strikes killed 21 civilians. But an independent monitoring group Airwars believes that since the beginning of March Western aircraft destroyed 370 people from among the civilian population.
After the liberation of the airport column wandering to the South of desperate people began to decrease. Reaching together with adults, children usually carry white flags. It’s a clever ploy frightened parents, who in this way divert the attention of the children during the long transition to a safe place. Near the airport I met a man who was heartbroken and did not give his name. He told me that the family of his brother — six people were killed in the airstrike. Throwing on the shoulders of the blanket, he stood with red eyes from crying at the roadside and begged a passing help. “For God’s sake — told me this man. — You have to help us. We need a shovel to dig up the corpses in the house. There, under the rubble are still two bodies”. But there again the battle began, and he went to the camp to look for his brother. This is the only surviving relative, he told me.
When the division emergency response came in, finally, to the city, the first thing I noticed is the clean linen, which hung in the yard of one house. Then I heard a loud explosion. This is a truck loaded with explosives crashed into ISIS Iraqi tank “Abrams”. But the tank kept on walking, and by night HDR was captured in the town tiny bridgehead, which was the quarter of al-Josac.
“Islamic state” is slowly but surely losing Mosul and Iraq. The end of the so-called Caliphate is near. In Abu Safe, the government troops discovered the corpses of foreign fighters, as well as hiding jihadist of ISIS.
“It’s Russian”, — said one officer. But most likely, the gunman was from some Central Asian republics. On the field of battle was also dead Syrians, men from Deir-ez-Zor. For tens of thousands entered into ISIS foreign fighters from Syria may be the last refuge.
There is another reason why the offensive in the West of Mosul accelerated. Iraqi forces, defeating ISIL in Ramadi, Fallujah and in Eastern Mosul, learned to fight with the rebels, acquainted with their tactics.
In the Eastern part of Mosul, they suffered heavy losses from the trucks with explosives. It’s hard to describe the power with which to explode these machines. At the beginning of the attack on Mosul ISIS sent in the coming four bombs of the truck, and one of them exploded a few hundred meters away from me. The shock wave shook the building, and above our heads flew the wreckage of the engine. My mouth was Packed earth. It seemed that fragments were scattered for several kilometers. But no one died.
Perhaps the driver-suicide bomber was shot from the RPG Iraqi soldiers. Now during the offensive ahead of eager people with the RPG at the ready to destroy the bombs of the machine. And the soldiers learned how to quickly equip the item when you transition to defense. Ahead is always armored bulldozer. When the soldiers begin to advance on the next street, a bulldozer immediately makes construction waste and stone the protective walls that prevent the passage of suicide bombers in booby-trapped cars.
ISIS militants resourceful people. The Iraqi military showed me one house on the freed street. There was an indoor courtyard, but the front fence and the wall of the house demolished. In the living room there was a machine similar to an ambulance, but it was a car bomb which terrorists have hidden from spy planes.
“The detonator is not yet removed. I wouldn’t come close,” warned accompanying me, major. Even the engineers said that to touch the car too dangerous. Later it was destroyed from a safe distance.
Although ISIS is fighting furiously with all modern fighters are the real innovators. They have no air force, but there are drones that are commercially available, and the militants turned in their weapons. If in the East of Mosul, they used bombs of the car, in the West military action began as the war drones.
The ISIS drones bring big trouble to the infantry. During a firefight in the West of Mosul, I stopped to talk with soldiers, who had taken refuge behind a fence. When I asked the last question, talk to me the captain listened, and leaned forward from the sudden renewed firefight. To the right and suddenly I felt the jolt of the shock wave from the explosion, which I thought came out of nowhere.
Then a slight wound was received by the BBC journalist, who injured his hand. When we climbed into the Hummer, the driver explained that above us flew the drone. And the fire led Iraqi troops who tried to shoot him. And this explosion did not come from nowhere; the munition exploded right over our heads. I noticed that the gunner closed the door. We are inside the car was safe, and he pushed his head out, watching, not whether there will be new drones.
“They’re dropping drones with 40 mm grenade from МК19 to stop the offensive. All the time they use four to five drones that attack the same place, explained the Federal police captain Ali Nama Razak (Razak Ali Nama). As you know, we do not always notice these drones visually, but seeing that we start to fire on them with machine guns. And when the battle begins, we look at the sky. We are looking forward to spot bombs cars, suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices and snipers”.
One unit from the “Golden division” over 70 times have been drone strikes that flew Roy for Roy. The operator of one drone managed to get a grenade inside the Hummer. All four were inside the sapper was killed. That day, dozens of people were injured.
The sound of a flying drone, even their own, enough to ensure that the Iraqi military had fled or began to hide under cars. To shoot down a drone is not easy. I once saw snipers and machine gunners opened fire on the swarm of drones. They were in one drone, but he still continued to fly.
ISIS militants control drones with motorcycles, to avoid being hunted down and killed. They change frequencies in the hope that the enemy will not be able to supply interference. But one commander of coalition troops said to me: “the Enemy will not be able to win by dropping grenades from the sky. Of course, a decisive break drones will not provide”. Iraqi and coalition forces today are achieving some success in the fight against the drones. They won’t say how they did it, but in recent days, the drones began to fly much less.
Mosul became the major battleground for the Iraqi forces fighting against Islamic state, but many commanders say that other battles were much harder. In Ramadi and Fallujah in ISIS held more firmly, and the position he was stronger. And in Mosul, the local population quickly turned against the militants.
In the Eastern part of the city re-opened the bazaars, and the children went to school. For the first time in three years since the seizure of Mosul by ISIS there began to study the girls. The so-called Caliphate was proclaimed on 29 June 2014, and four days later the newly-minted “Caliph” and leader of the ISIL Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the first and only time I appeared in front of the cameras, reading the sermon in the town mosque an-Nuri. Iraqi troops are now in sight from it, and it is well seen her leaning minaret built by the Ottomans.
Mosul is the second largest city of Iraq with a rich and cosmopolitan heritage. But the Islamists used it significant influence long before the appearance of ISIS. As I said one resident of Mosul, the Iraqi capital did not care about the city, and therefore, “people are dissatisfied with Baghdad, but do not support ISIS”.
They say that al-Baghdadi fled the city. According to Iraqi and American commanders, he’s hiding in the desert. Shiite militias and the Iraqi military is trying to cut the escape route to the West in Syria. However, the military command understands that Mosul is a big city, and therefore to block all roads and trails is impossible. The capture of al-Baghdadi is not the primary goal, commanders say.
Everyone understands that neither his death, nor the liberation of Mosul will not put an end to the “Islamic state”. But in Iraq, this will lead to the destruction of the Caliphate.
Quentin Somerville — a middle East correspondent of the BBC.