On Sunday evening (16 October), a 94,000-member coalition of Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga allies and thousands of soldiers from various minorities started an operation to free Mosul, an oil-rich Northern Iraqi city, from more than two years of ISIS rule. ISIS occupied the city in June 2014 and it remains to be the group’s last major stronghold in Iraq. Analysts see the Mosul offensive as the defining moment in the fight against the Islamist militia.
According to Sirwan Barzani, a brigadier general, it will probably take two weeks for advancing forces to enter the city but only Iraqi government troops and national police officers will be allowed to do so due to fears of sectarian retribution. Retaking the city will likely take up to two months. The offensive has triggered fears in Europe that the attacks on the ISIS in Mosul may increase the risk of attacks in Europe as ISIS fighters may want to return to their European homelands if the group is expelled from the city. According to Security Commissioner, Julian King, it is a “serious threat” that Europe has to be prepared to deal with, King said.
It is estimated that there currently are about 2,500 ISIS fighters from Europe in Mosul and its surrounding area. Analysts say it is unclear how many of them will want to return to Europe and carry out attacks there as this depends on what strategy the terrorist militia will adopt if defeated in Mosul. So far, ISIS’ reaction has been mixed. There have been reports that some fighters have fled the city to the Syrian border and others that the terrorists continue to run the city and threaten anyone wanting to leave.