Mosul Liberation Quickens Amid Rumors ISIS Leader Has Left Town

Military observers now predict recapture of west Mosul in weeks

Iraqis stand outside the rubble of their homes in the Shuhada neighbourhood of west Mosul
Iraqis stand outside the rubble of their homes in the Shuhada neighbourhood of west Mosul / Getty Images
March 9, 2017

Iraqi forces are clearing Islamic State terrorists out of western Mosul ahead of schedule, and coalition forces believe the group's leader has fled.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is rumored to have left Mosul to hide in the desert between Mosul and the Syrian border. The spokesman for the 16-nation anti-ISIS coalition, U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, told the Washington Free Beacon he believes Baghdadi is alive, despite the fact he has not produced a video announcement of any kind in more than a year.

"We don't know exactly where Baghdadi is, but we believe he's alive and focused mostly on his own survival," Dorrian wrote in an email Thursday.

"The pattern ISIS typically uses is to evacuate leadership figures and leave a core of fighters as a delaying action to die in place," he wrote. "They execute fighters and commanders for trying to escape the fighting, although they notably do not follow that procedure themselves."

Baghdadi reportedly issued orders to his terrorists in the Nineveh area to either blow themselves up or flee, according to Ali Sada, editor of Daesh Daily, a war digest. "Iraqi Security forces reported that Baghdadi authorized his local commanders to do what suits them," Sada reported.

Scores of terrorists have been killed making a last stand in downtown western Mosul this week.

"The Iraqi Security Forces [ISF] are now entering some of the most dense, urban terrain in the West side of the city, and we expect fierce fighting there, with the enemy employing booby traps, use of human shields, and indiscriminate mortar and artillery fire into the civilian areas to try and delay the ISF advance," according to Dorrian, the coalition spokesman.

"The Iraq attack on the governmental complex in west Mosul was surprising to ISIS, which lost 30 snipers it positioned on the building roofs," said Mosul Provincial Council members, who spoke to Al Sumaria TV.

Elite terrorist fighters from the Islamic State's Furqan and Tariq bin Ziyad special units were wiped out in fighting this week, according to Sada.

Iraqi commanders used new tactics to keep ISIS defenders off balance, allowing for quick territorial gains.

Military observers had expected the assault on western Mosul to take months, but many now predict the recapture of all its neighborhoods in a matter of weeks.

Thousands of civilians in western Mosul have been escorted out of neighborhoods recaptured by Iraqi forces, but hundreds of thousands are still trapped by the fighting. Conditions for those civilians are grim, according to United Nations aid workers.

Some civilians are forced to allow the terrorists to fire their weapons from their rooftops. Coalition aircraft carried out 17 airstrikes in the western Mosul area from Monday through Wednesday afternoon.

"My cousin in West Mosul says he stays in the basement of his house as much as possible and worries about missiles and cannon fire from helicopters every day," said Ayad Salih, a U.N. aid official who works in Kurdish-controlled Erbil.

"The citizens in west Mosul have no clean water to drink since the water system to houses has been disrupted. People drink polluted well water, so many people are ill," Salih said in a call Thursday morning. "The people have little or no food. My cousin says Islamic State distributed only flour and potatoes as rations, and that was three weeks ago."

Baghdadi's path of escape from Mosul to Raqqa in Syria likely would not pass through the closely watched city of Tal Afar, a besieged ISIS stronghold 40 miles west of the city, according to Iraqi sources who know the rural geography of northwest Iraq.

The sparsely populated desert area southwest of Mosul would be easy to cross unnoticed, according to Aras Mohammed, a civil engineer who did his military reserve training in the area during the late 1980s.

Bashar Khaddam contributed to this report.

Published under: Iraq , ISIS