Over two years ago, the city of Mosul was seized by fighters from the so-called “Islamic State.” The fall of the city sent shock waves around the world. A city of nearly two million, defended by at least 30,000 NATO-trained and equipped soldiers had fallen to at most 1500 jihadists coming in from the desert. By the fall of 2014, fighters from IS were launching mortar rounds into Baghdad itself. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers had been killed or wounded, including 1700 cadets in a mass execution at Camp Speicher. Tens of thousands more were driven to desertion by fear and poor leadership. Entire divisions were wiped out. The Iraqi military had collapsed. It was one of the greatest defeats suffered by an army in history.
Now, two years later, the Iraqi army is back. The numbers involved vary widely depending on the source, but most settle on a figure of around 30000 Iraqi soldiers and 5000 Peshmerga fighters supported by an indeterminate number of Shia, Christian, and Sunni militia groups. The force is also supported by armor, artillery, and Iraqi and Western airpower. Against this force is around 3-5000 ISIS fighters who have “created a network of tunnels under Mosul and have planted improvised explosives so densely that they resemble minefields” (New York Times). The fighting is expected to be fierce and difficult for the Coalition forces, but, given the disparity in numbers and equipment, there is little chance that the Iraqi forces will lose. ISIS is not as formidable as it once was, while the Iraqi Army is not as fragile as it once was. The main reason for this is morale. Iraqi forces have been boosted by recent victories while ISIS’ morale has been severely damaged. Iraqi forces have also gained experience from the fighting, while ISIS has lost its most experienced fighters and commanders. Overall, there is little doubt of victory for Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul.
And victory for the Iraqi forces would indeed be a victory for all of Iraq. It is hard to overstate the violence and malice espoused by the “Islamic State.” In fact, it is quite easy to understate the barbarity of IS given the unbelievable heights of brutality achieved and the difficulty of writing and speaking of such horrid things. What follows is a mere summary of what I can think of at the moment. I am barely scratching the surface here: this is a group that beheads children, crucifies innocents, burns men alive, displays severed heads for public viewing, rapes, pillages, and oh so much more. Defeating ISIS is not just a matter of ensuring peace for Iraq or the Middle East but of showing the resolve of the world to resist such inhumanity. As the battle for Mosul begins, for a moment, just a moment, let us not think about what happens next: the ethnic tensions, competing groups, simmering conflict, Shia versus Sunni, Arab versus Kurd, etc. For one moment, let’s just praise the common soldier on the ground. The Iraqi soldier: whether Shia, Sunni, or Christian, whether Arab or Kurd, fighting day by day against some of the worst that humanity has to offer. The soldier on the front line that has to look at evil and hatred embodied, and down the barrel of a gun. The warrior who puts their life on the line for their family, their nation, and the world. The freedom fighter pushing ever onward for the Liberation of Iraq.