In June 2014 the terrorists of the organization “Islamic State” (IS) attacked the metropolis Mosul in the north of Iraq and seized control in a matter of days. Mosul was the financial core of Iraq and a large portion of oil trade went via the megacity. Additionally, the many oil refineries close to the city gave IS a means of income. With the conquest of Mosul, IS declared the creation of the “Emirate Iraq”, as part of their Caliphate. Their next goal was to connect Mosul with Raqqa, their capital in Syria, in which they succeeded in August of the same year through the conquest of Sinjar. The advance against Mosul as well as the attack on Sinjar caused massive displacements of people who sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region.
Severe impact on the Kurdistan Region
The IS-terrorists were confronted with rather limited military resistance, as especially the northern, Sunni population of Iraq had felt used and neglected by the Shia government under Prime Minister Maliki. Correspondingly, the hate-filled messages of the terror organization fell on fertile soil. The fact that IS was one of the few employers in Iraq to actually pay a regular monthly wage added to their appeal.
Thus, IS was capable of taking large parts in the north with a relatively small number of armed men – until they reached the border of the Kurdistan Region. At first, the KRG was completely surprised and overwhelmed by the brutality and the fanaticism of the terrorists, who, following their motto “We love it more to die, than you love living”, boarded armor plated trucks filled with explosives and drove straight into the Peshmerga lines. Nonetheless, with air support of the United States and other coalition members, IS could be stopped before they reached Erbil and was pushed back over the borders of the Region.
Peshmerga lead fight against ISIS
With more and more global support for the Peshmerga fighters – the German Milan-rockets, which can be used to stop suicide bombers in armored trucks, gained recognition far beyond the Kurdish borders – the re-conquest of IS-held villages began. Until now, the campaign found its peak in the liberation of Sinjar in November 2015, when Peshmerga fighters, once more supported by fighter jets of the international coalition, were able to raise the flag of the Kurdistan Region-Iraq in the Yezidi city.
However, the defense against the terrorists and the liberation of IS held territories came at a high price. In the beginning, the combat against the fanatics with a death wish had posed a problem for the Peshmerga, who had been severely underequipped. While IS had conquered the most modern weapons and vehicles from the Iraqi army, Peshmerga had to fight with old rifles. Additionally, the terrorists left improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mines behind, so that every village, every house and every room had to be carefully demined. Since June 2014, all in all 1466 Peshmerga gave their lives to defend their country. 9,000 were injured in combat or by IEDs and 62 are counted as missing.
Liberation of Mosul as the next great challenge
Currently, all of Iraq is waiting for the liberation of Mosul. The Iraqi troops managed to push back IS as well, after an initial time of heavy losses. With active support of the United States, the lost territories could be reconquered and IS was pushed back to the borders of the oil-metropolis in the north. Mosul is currently being besieged from all sides, by the Iraqi army as well as the Peshmerga forces, but IS continues to use cruel methods to remain in control of the tactically crucial villages surrounding the city.
When the last big offensive, the battle of Mosul, will begin is uncertain. Too many questions remain unclear: What will happen once another major refugee wave begins and how are the up to a million new refugees to be provided for? Who will be in charge of Mosul after its liberation? Which military responsibilities will the Iraqi army take, and which the Peshmerga? And what will happen with Iraq after the victory over IS?
The most important question has however changed: It is no longer “Can IS be defeated?” but “When will IS be defeated?”