Iraqi Forces to Focus on Liberating Tal Afar

Iraqi PM to declare complete control of Old Mosul within 72 hours

An Iraqi forces' humvee lies parked outside the destroyed gate of Al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul on July 5 / Getty Images
July 5, 2017

In the coming days, Iraqi counterterrorism forces are expected to assault the remaining ISIS stronghold in Tal Afar—roughly 40 miles west of Mosul—according to the commander of Iraq's Joint Military Operations, Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Rashid Yarallah, who spoke to Iraqi media July 4.

"Tal Afar is the next point of liberation with the participation of all military units," Yarallah said.

"The Turkmen-dominated city of Tal Afar is completely encircled by Turkmen Shia militia and Peshmerga forces," the leader of the 10,000-man Turkmen Shia Popular Mobilization Forces told Free Beacon Sunday. Abu Retha al Najjar, who directs 2,500 fighters engaged in Tal Afar said that the Tal Afar has approximately 900 ISIS fighters left, of which 650 are local and 250 are foreign fighters. "The district of Tal Afar once held 350,000 Turkmen residents, including Shia and Sunni families, but only 30,000 civilians still live there, chiefly in the town of Maria," Najjar said.

"Whether the next fight against ISIS is in Tal Afar, Al-Hawija, or Al-Qaim, the coalition will continue to support our Iraqi partners to defeat our common enemy," said Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), speaking to defense reporters Thursday.

The Iraqi prime minister is expected to declare complete control of all territory in Old Mosul within 72 hours. Intense fighting continues in the crowded streets and alley ways where approximately 300 terrorists are still fighting, according to Ali Sada, publisher of Daesh Daily, a war news digest.

As the Mosul liberation campaign closes, the tempo of coalition airstrikes against Raqqa has dramatically increased.

Near Raqqa on July 4 coalition aircraft made 27 strikes against 19 ISIS tactical units and destroyed 17 fighting positions, 4 vehicles, 2 heavy machine guns, a mortar system, a weapons cache, a command-and-control node, a vehicle bomb facility, and a vehicle bomb, according to a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve.

In or near Mosul there were three strikes against two ISIS tactical units, which destroyed 33 fighting positions, 2 rocket-propelled grenade systems, and a front-end loader, according to OIR.

Islamic State clerics appear to be competing for leadership amid unconfirmed reports from Russian and Iraqi media that ISIS caliph Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was killed in a Russian airstrike near Raqqa in late May.

The Russian Defense Ministry has stated it has a high degree of certainty that Baghdadi was killed. Dillon, the spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said he could not confirm or deny the claim at a briefing in Iraq.

There are, however, signs of deteriorating leadership, according to Dillon. "We have reflections of serious internal conflicts within ISIS' ranks," he said. "Leaders have abandoned fighters to die, local fighters are being left to rot where they fall, while foreign fighters receive proper burials. And remaining inexperienced fighters are making rookie mistakes, blowing themselves and fellow fighters up accidentally in preparation for combat."

At the mandatory Friday prayers in Tal Afar, Abu Qutaiba, a close confidante of the caliph and considered a contender to replace him, reportedly wept openly when he mentioned Baghdadi's name and read a Muslim prayer for the deceased, according to an unnamed source quoted Friday by Al Sumeria TV. "The unusual message appeared to confirm the suspicion that Baghdadi was dead," Dr. Ali Akram Al Bayati, who leads the Middle East Center for Media Coordination (MECMC), told the Free Beacon.

"However, according to the civilian leader of the third largest Shia militia in Iraq, Baghdadi is still alive and sheltering in Raqqa," Bayati tells the Free Beacon. Abu Ala’e Al Walaei, the leader of the Kataieb Saied Al Shuhada’e (KSS), the third-largest Popular Mobilization Unit with fighters in multiple regions of Iraq and Syria, told Bayati in a call Monday that the rumors of Al Baghdadi's demise are unfounded. Baghdadi has not been seen in video since appearing at the Al Nouri Mosque in July of 2014. Multiple reports of his death have surfaced during the last year, but none were proven.

Another prominent cleric gave a sermon in which he acknowledged that ISIS had lost Mosul, a "surprising admission," according to Al Sumeria TV. Abu Baraa-al-Mawseli, a top ISIS leader and the deputy mayor of Tal Afar, announced that his town would serve as the "temporary headquarters for the Caliphate."

An unconfirmed report that cleric Qutaiba was executed for his indiscreet remarks was picked up by Fox News and several British tabloids citing a source with Al Sumeria, an independent satellite TV network.

On Saturday Abu Qutaiba was arrested for spreading seditious rumors, Al Sumeria reported. On Saturday the terrorist authorities had ordered that any citizen spreading rumors of the caliph's death would be punished with 50 lashes.

"The clerics who lead Friday prayers are the top ISIS leaders, and the reports of Abu Qutaiba's arrest suggest that he may have fallen out of favor," said Bayati.

Published under: Iraq , ISIS