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Iraqi forces began storming the Islamic State-held Old City of Mosul on18 June, in yet another assault they hope will be the last in the eight-month-old campaign to seize the militants’ stronghold.

The historic district and a tiny area to its north are the only parts of the city still under control of the Islamists. Mosul used to be the Iraqi capital of the group, also known as ISIS.

While the eastern side of Mosul was liberated within two months, with the help of US-led international coalition air and ground support, the fight for the West has been slow and deadly to both Iraqi forces and civilians caught in the crossfire. 

The army is moving in from the north, trying to meet up with the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and Federal Police troops who are painstakingly advancing from the south.

Announcing the start of the offensive on October 17 last year, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said it would be wrapped up by Christmas.

But ISIL’s counter-attack proved much fiercer than expected and troops have faced a grueling street-to-street battle against snipers, mortar fire, and suicide bombs.

Read more: Iraq-Turkey Tension Rises Amid Battle For Mosul

While the eastern side of Mosul was liberated within two months, with the help of US-led international coalition air and ground support, the fight for the West has been slow and deadly to both Iraqi forces and civilians caught in the crossfire.

The Iraqi army does not publish its fatality statistics, but it is reported that 774 security forces have been killed and 4,600 wounded.

Meanwhile, more than 8,000 civilians have been killed or injured and nearly 600,000 displaced. The coalition is responsible for hundreds of the deaths and has come under intense criticism for its sometimes indiscriminate air strikes.

Read more: The ‘Sniper of Mosul’ is picking off jihadis one-by-one

Why is Mosul important?

Mosul is the main industrial city located in northern Iraq. It is rich with oil fields and is a key trade hub. Mosul has been under IS control since the summer of 2014 and is the terrorist group’s last bastion of power in Iraq. It’s an important stronghold because of its proximity to IS territory in Syria and to IS supply route through Turkey.

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 Will the capture of Mosul by government forces make Iraq safe?

Mosul is of great strategic importance and its loss would surely deprive IS of an important bastion. The security situation in Iraq would improve after the capture of Mosul by government forces, but it would not be a guarantee of peace for the war-torn country.

It would not be wrong to conclude that the policies of previous Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri-Al-Maliki isolated the Sunni population of Iraq which was effectively exploited by Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Iraq. Many disenchanted Sunnis filled the ranks of the notorious group. Some joined IS out of anger while others joined simply for economic reasons.

IS is a terrorist group and it has its bases in the western Iraqi desert in Anbar province. IS, despite being ousted from Fallujah, has continued to harass the beleaguered Iraqi army and police. It also launched a surprise attack on the Iraqi army positions in the Iraqi desert last year to divert the later from ongoing offensive in Mosul.

Terrorist groups rely primarily on guerrilla style hit and run tactics. The loss of Mosul would not hamper IS capacity to conduct suicide operations in Iraqi cities and to attack isolated Iraqi military posts dotted across the western Iraqi desert.

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Only a well-defined counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategy would ensure peace and stability in Iraq which has been bleeding since the 2003 US invasion. It would not be wrong to conclude that the policies of previous Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri-Al-Maliki isolated the Sunni population of Iraq which was effectively exploited by Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Iraq. Many disenchanted Sunnis filled the ranks of the notorious group. Some joined IS out of anger while others joined simply for economic reasons.

The new strategy to counter IS must address the concerns of the Sunni population of Iraq. They must be given proper representation in the Iraqi parliament, military, police, and bureaucracy. After the fall of Mosul, Iraqi military should carry out operations against IS hideouts across the country to disrupt its operations and deny it the breathing space it desperately needs.

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