On Thursday 20 October, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi disclosed that the offensive to seize back Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group was going faster than planned, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a new military operation to clear villages around the city.
Speaking via a video conference call to senior officials who met in Paris in order to discuss the future of Iraq’s second-largest city, the Prime Minister disclosed “the forces are pushing towards the town more quickly than we though and more quickly than we had programmed.” Four days into the assault on Mosul, Iraqi government forces and allied Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are steadily recovering outlying territory before the main push into the city begins.
According to Kurdish and Iraqi military statements, on Thursday, an Iraqi army elite unit and Kurdish fighters started trying to take back villages north and east of Mosul. Sources on the ground have disclosed that howitzer and mortar fire started at 6:00 AM (0300 GMT), hitting a group of villages held by IS about 20 km (13 miles) north and east of Mosul, while helicopters flew overhead. In a statement announcing the launch of Thursday’s operations, the Kurdish general military disclosed that “the objectives are to clear a number of nearby villages and secure control of strategic areas to further restrict ISIL’s (IS) movements.”
Sources have disclosed that dozens of black Humvees of the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) mounted with machine guns, headed towards Bartella, which is a Christian village whose population fled after IS took over the region. The town is the main attack target on the eastern front. A CTS spokesman at a nearby location has reported that the militants are fighting back, using suicide car-bombs, roadside bombs and snipers in a bid to push the attack back, adding that they are pounding surrounding areas with mortar. Over the past year, the US-trained CTS has spearheaded most of the offensive against IS, including the capture of Ramadi and Falluja, west of the capital Baghdad. The force is deployed on a Kurdish frontline, marking the first joint military operation between the government of Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq.
On the northern front, Kurdish Peshmerga shot down with machine guns an unmanned drone aircraft that came from IS lines in the village of Nawaran, which is located a few kilometres away. It was not clear if the drone, which was 1 – 2 metres (3 – 6 feet) wide, was carrying explosives or just on reconnaissance. According to Halgurd Hasan, one of the Kurdish fighters deployed in a position overlooking the plain north of Mosul, “there have ben times when they dropped explosives.”
The Iraqi Prime Minister announced the start of the offensive to retake Mosul on 17 October, two years after th city fell to the militants, who declared from its Grand Mosque a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Mosul is the last big city stronghold held by IS in Iraq. Raqqa is the capital of the group in Syria. A US-led coalition, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Italy and other Western nations, is providing air and ground support to the forces who are closing in on the city. The battle for Mosul is expected to be the biggest battle in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, which toppled Saddam Hussein. Around 1.5 million people still live in Mosul and the battle is expected to last weeks, if not months.
The warring sides are not making public their casualty tolls or the number of casualties amongst civilians. Iraqi officials and residents of Mosul however have reported that IS is preventing people from leaving the city, in effect using them as shields to complicate air strikes and the ground progress of the attacking forces. The administration of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province is now one of the main topics of discussion for world leaders. There are growing concerns that the defeat of the ultra-hardline Sunni group would cause new sectarian and ethnic violence, fuelled by a desire to avenge atrocities that were inflicted on minority groups.
On 26 September, French President Francois Hollande stated that France will completely shut down “the Jungle” migrant camp in Calais and called on London to help deal with the plight of thousands of people whose dream is ultimately to get to Britain.
Speaking during a visit to the northern port city, where as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria live in squalor, President Hollande stated that “the situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it,” adding, “we must dismantle the camp completely and definitively.” While France is planning to relocate the migrants in small groups across the country, right-wing opponents of the Socialist leader are raising the heat ahead of next year’s election, accusing the French leader of mismanaging a problem that is ultimately a British one.
While the migrants in Calais want to enter Britain, the UK government is arguing that migrants seeking asylum need to do so under European Union (EU) law in the country where they enter. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britain’s vote in June to leave the EU, and it is likely that the issue will be a major factor in France’s presidential election next year. If France stopped trying to prevent migrants from entering Britain, Britain would ultimately find itself obliged to deal with the matter when asylum-seekers land on its shores a short distance by ferry or subsea train from France’s Calais coast. President Hollande reminded Britain of this, stating that he expects London to fully honour agreements on managing the flow of migrants. London and Paris have struck agreements on issues such as the recently begun construction of a giant wall on the approach road to Calais port in an attempt to try to stop migrants who attempt daily to board cargo trucks that are bound for Britain.
In response to Monday’s comments by the French leader, a British government spokesman stated that “what happens in the Jungle is ultimately a matter for the French authorities, what they choose to do with it.” The spokesman further disclosed that “our position is very clear: we remain committed to protecting the shared border that we have in Calais,” adding, ‘the work that we do with France to maintain the security of that border goes on and will go on, irrespective of what happens to the Jungle camp.”
Paris, France is to open its first refugee camp in October in response to asylum seekers living in the city’s streets.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo has disclosed that a camp to house 400 men would be opened at a site in the north of the city in mid-October while a camp for women and children, in the suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, will follow by the end of the year. Makeshift camps have appeared in public areas and streets in Paris, before being cleared by police. Hundreds of people dispersed in the city hours before the latest announcement. The two camps will cost an estimated 6.5 million euros (US $7.3 million; £5.4 million) and will provide shelter and medical care for asylum seekers for five to ten days.
Meanwhile investigators have disclosed that a planned centre for 200 asylum seekers in Essonne, which is located 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Paris, was set on fire overnight. The planned centre in Essonne, at Forges-les-Bains, was due to take in ninety people in October. French media have reported that a meeting on 5 September to discuss it was attended by protesters who dispersed late in the evening. The fire was reported to the authorities at about 2:30 local time (00:30 GMT). French police are expected to launch an investigation into the case of the fire.
Calls have also been mounting to close th emigrant camp in Calais, in northern France, near the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Earlier in the week, protesters causes severe disruption as they blocked roads near the port town, demanding the closure of the “Jungle” camp. Hundreds formed a human chain, joined by farmers and local businesspeople. Calais mayor Natacha Bouchat, who was amongst the protesters, stated that things were “becoming unbearable and something needs to be done.” About 7,000 migrants now live in the “Jungle,” with many attempting to reach Britain in lorries crossing the Channel. In August, the authorities in France and the United Kingdom agreed to increase security and humanitarian aid in Calais and to further secure the Channel Tunnel.
While United States President Barack Obama was determined not to get into a full war in Syria and Iraq, statistics from the two-year campaign show that the war is far from over.
When the US-led coalition began bombing the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s targets in Iraq and Syria, senior general and politicians warned at the time that it would be a “generational struggle” that would “last many years.” Two years on, that prediction has proved to be accurate and while the campaign has had its successes, it appears to be far from over.
More than 14,000 strikes have been carried out in the past two years at a cost of US $8.4 billion to the United States and US $365 million to the United Kingdom. In these strikes, some 26,000 targets have been either damaged or destroyed. Rather than lessening the campaign, officials have opted to step it up in its second year. In its second year, there have been 2,336 more airstrikes, which have also resulted in twice as many civilian deaths. According to a London-based monitor, called Airwars, 1,080 civilians have been killed. The Pentagon however assesses that only fifty-five civilians have been killed by US aircraft while the UK Ministry of Defense states that British airstrikes have not resulted in any innocent deaths. In Iraq, some 3.2 million Iraqis have been displaced, however the number of Syrians is considerably greater and this mass exodus has changed borders, swelled towns and emptied cities.
While when he first announced the airstrikes in 2014, President Barack Obama stated that he “…will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” that appears to have failed as there are currently some 3,800 US soldiers in Iraq. US, UK and French Special Forces are also operating in Iraq as well as in Syria. A further 400 American troops will also be deployed to an airbase south of Mosul to help the push on that strategic city.
Anxious European leaders have issued a number of calls to Britons to stay in the European Union (EU) rather than to risk years of economic damage, however the prime minister whose country will chair the EU from July has stated that it must prepare for a Brexit.
From German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to the heads of the EU institutions in Brussels and the man who forged the modern EU, Jacques Delors, they said that remaining in the EU would be better for Britain and Europe. While they are aware that outside pressure may be counterproductive, they all stressed that it was for voters to decide. While most European leaders have previously muted appeals to the British for fear of being counter productive, a swing towards Brexit in opinion polls a week before the 23 June referendum has sparked deep concern about the impact on the EU, effectively prompting a greater readiness to warn Britons of the harsh consequences.
Chancellor Merkel, who did her best in order to help British Prime Minister David Cameron negotiate a special status deal for Britain in February, has stated that the UK could be shut out of the prized single market on which its large financial services sector is heavily reliant. She stated that “if Britain votes to leave the EU, it will no longer be able to benefit from the advantages of the European common market,” adding that any negotiation of future terms of access would start with Britain bong on the outside. She noted, “I can’t imagine that would be any kind of advantage…But the decision is ultimately up to the Britons.”
While finance ministers from the nineteen EU countries that use the euro currency met on 16 June in Luxembourg, their chairman, Dutch minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, stating that they would not discuss any contingency plans for Brexit. While he acknowledged concern about the British vote, he stated that there was no “Plan B” to deal with it, adding that he was confident that Britons would vote to remain in the EU. That confidence however is not widely shared in Brussels, especially in the past two weeks as polls have swung towards Brexit. One senior diplomat has stated, “we are approaching the point of no return. Brexit is now a visible scenario…We are talking, loudly but not in public. But there is nothing we can do.”
Robert Fico, the outspoken prime minister of Slovakia, who met with Merkel on Thursday, has also indicated that he thinks Britain will vote to leave. He stated, “if you’re watching football and your team is three behind in the 90th minute of the game, its unlikely that there will be a turnaround and that suddenly you will win.” His country’s six-month presidency of the EU begins in July, and would effectively give Slovakia some role in the start of negotiations with a Britain set on leaving the EU. Fico has warned that the polls shows that it is now time to be “realistic” about preparing for that eventuality.
While European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the Union Chief executive, told a questioner at an economic form in Russia that Brexit would not put “the EU in danger of death” he has cautioned against a rise of euro-scepticism across Europe. And like European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, Juncker warned that a Leave vote would unleash “major uncertainty.” Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, made one of his most impassioned calls yet for Britons to stay, saying, “Europe without the United Kingdom will be distinctly weaker. This is obvious. Equally obvious is that the UK outside the EU will be distinctly weaker too,” warning that Brexit would bring “seven years of limbo and uncertainty in our relations.”
Juncker’s distant predecessor from 1985 – 1995, Jacques Delors, has also issued a statement in a bid to dispel rumours that he favoured a Brexit to let other states to integrate further. The architect of the euro single currency stated, “I consider the UK’s participation in the European Union to be a positive element both for the British and for the Union.”