A coalition of Iraqi government forces, Christian militiamen, and Kurdish soldiers in home-made post-apocalyptic battle tanks are now on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and with air support from the US and Britain, they are poised to retake it from ISIS.
Mosul is the last Iraqi city still under ISIS control. Washington and Baghdad saved it for last because, with a normal population of more than two million people, it will likely prove the most difficult battle.
The number of ISIS fighters inside the city is estimated at less than 10,000, but they’ll be fighting guerrilla-style with booby traps, car bombs, IEDs and suicide bombers. ISIS has also dug in deep underground with a vast network of Vietcong- and Hezbollah-style tunnel networks. Rooting them out of there is going to be a nightmare.
The cities of Fallujah, Tikrit and Ramadi were purged with the help of Iranian-backed Shia militias. This time, Assyrian Christians and Kurds are backing up the Iraqis instead.
The Kurds are the best fighters in the region after the Israelis, and they are by far our most reliable allies. They are consistently on the right side of every conflict, against both secular tyrants like Saddam Hussein and all manner of religious totalitarians like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
And they are truly formidable fighters. Attacking Kurdish territory is as brain-dead as attempting an invasion of Texas. At the height of his power, Saddam Hussein had the fourth-largest army in the world, yet Kurdish fighters, thanks to a British and American no-fly zone, fought and won against Baghdad in the aftermath of the first Persian Gulf War with nothing but small arms.
They’re making their own tanks now, if “tank” is the right word for contraptions that appear air-lifted out of Mad Max and Dawn of the Dead. You can tell just by looking at them that they’re not as fireproof as an M1 Abrams, a Merkava, or a Russian T-4 Armata, but they don’t have to be. The Kurds are fighting terrorists, not the Wehrmacht.
ISIS is doomed. Fewer than 10,000 terrorists are currently facing off against almost 100,000 Kurdish and Iraqi fighters. They aren’t fighting “imperialists” this time, but indigenous Muslims and Christians, many of whom, especially on the Kurdish side, would be willing to fight with kitchen knives if they had to.
A Kurdish general says he expects the fighting to last roughly two months, which seems about right since taking back smaller Iraqi cities took a couple of weeks. However long it takes, ISIS is going to lose Mosul, just like it lost Tikrit and Fallujah.
“They will come back with a new name and they'll be more extreme and more barbaric,” Kurdish Lieutenant-Colonel Fariq Hama Faraj told the Military Times. “If you look to the history of these organizations we see that each one is more extreme than the last.”
That has been true so far, but it’s hard to imagine a nastier terrorist army than ISIS. The only thing limiting ISIS’ barbarism is its dearth of technology. Does anyone doubt for a moment that it would use nuclear weapons if it had them? If it had a superpower’s arsenal, mushroom clouds would have already risen over Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Tel Aviv, Brussels, Paris and Washington.
Even if ISIS were forced out of every last stronghold in both Syria and Iraq, it would still exist in some form, for sure, but the whole point of denying it territory, especially urban territory, is so it can’t amass military strength like a conventional state.
A lot of ISIS fighters are going to die, but they are part of a global organization and the survivors will fly away and land somewhere else like exploding mold spores. Some will hunker down elsewhere in Iraq. Some may head to Libya, others to Egypt’s increasingly anarchic Sinai peninsula.
Most will probably crawl back to Syria where they came from. ISIS is still going gangbusters there, especially in and around its “capital” in Raqqa. Contrary to popular belief—and propaganda out of the Kremlin—neither the Assad regime nor Vladimir Putin’s Russia are fighting ISIS. Their only concern is keeping the Arab Socialist Baath Party propped up in its rump state in Damascus and along the Mediterranean. ISIS still has a free hand to do whatever it wants out in the desert.
Some fleeing ISIS fighters will probably make a beeline for Europe and the United States. It won’t be easy for them to get here. The State Department has a notoriously difficult time vetting refugees, but more ISIS members than ever are now known to foreign intelligence agencies. Syrian rebels, for instance, have handed vast amounts of intelligence on ISIS’ network of foreign fighters to the US while other troves of information, much of it also about foreign fighters, including American citizens, have been obtained directly by the US military.
It won’t be easy for these people to get here when they run out of Mosul, but you can bet your bottom dollar that at least some of them are going to try.