ERBIL—Military campaigns against the Islamic State took place around three major cities controlled by the terror group over the weekend: Fallujah 40 miles west of Baghdad, Mosul in Iraq’s northernmost province, and Raqqa in Syria, ISIS’s capital.
Kurdish authorities mourned the loss of a top Peshmerga commander, Brig. General Rezgar Mohammed Amin, who was killed Sunday in Gwer along with a number of his soldiers when Kurdish forces attacked jihadi militants near Mosul, Al Masdar News reported.
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"We just lost a major player," Kemal Kirkuki, a senior Peshmerga officer in Kirkuk, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Close to 5,000 Kurdish fighters, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, launched a large-scale offensive early Sunday morning against ISIS-held areas in northern Iraq. In neighboring Syria, the United States also guided a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters to capture areas held by the terror group.
"It is significant that pressure is on Daesh on three major cities at once so that it cannot move its forces around, " said William Warda, the chairman of Alliance of Iraqi minorities. "Peshmerga forces advanced on five villages belonging to the Kakai minority" 12 miles east of Mosul, said Warda, whose group advocates for the human rights of minorities in Iraq.
In Anbar Province, the ISIS stronghold of Fallujah was squeezed by 50,000 Iraqi Army troops, militia groups comprised of Sunni tribesmen, and Shia militia from across Iraq, according to several reports. All villages and towns outside of the Fallujah city limits were captured.
At least three prominent Sunni tribes in the Mosul area will begin training next week as militia to join the campaign to liberate the city, according to sources within the Peshmerga. The total number of fighters will then number approximately 1,600 and will include the Lahibi, Jubouri, and Sabahi tribes. The tribal fighters will be trained and equipped at a base in the Makhmour area.
As many as 500 Sunni fighters have reportedly infiltrated Mosul, and a force of 4,000 Sunni tribesmen have reportedly been trained and equipped for the Mosul battle and are stationed at a military base east of Mosul, according to sources close to Atheel Al Nujaifi, a prominent Sunni politician who was governor of Nineveh Province.
"Nujaifi has said there are more than 4,000 Hashd al Watani Sunni militia in Bashik," said Yohanna Towaya, a faculty member of the Hamdaniya University in Erbil who met with Nujaifi last week. The base includes more than 200 Turkish special forces and approximately 20 tanks and heavy armored vehicles, he added.
As bloody street-to-street battles claimed the lives of hundreds of fighters in Fallujah last week, Iraqi government officials anticipated a humanitarian crisis brewing around Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city. Iraqi Army spokesmen announced Thursday that as soon as Fallujah has been subdued, which could happen within days, the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga will focus on retaking Mosul, once a city of 3 million people but today only about 1 million.
The United Nations refugee agency reported Friday that more than 4,200 Iraqis left Mosul and crossed into Syria in May, predicting that another 50,000 people would flee the Islamic State-held city and cross the border in coming weeks and months.
More than 200 ISIS terrorists reportedly have been killed in the last two days by Iraqi Army columns of armored vehicles and 4,000 Sunni tribal fighters advancing in the Fallujah district. Prime Minister Haider Abadi has called on the 10 brigades of the Shia militia Hashd Al Shaabi to support Sunni forces from the rear as they recovered villages and residential areas.
Abadi was on the scene himself Thursday in the town of Qarma, 10 miles northeast of Fallujah’s city center, to check on forces there, according to multiple sources. The city had been under siege for more than a year and Iraqi Army attempts to recover it had resulted in heavy losses.
The Iraqi Army has been moving slowly through the outer districts of Fallujah to allow civilians trapped in the city to run to advancing forces without ISIS snipers cutting them down, according to Iraqi media. Since food and medicine supplies stopped coming into the city in late February, four children reportedly have died of starvation. Efforts by the governor of Anbar to negotiate humanitarian shipments of food for civilians has been blocked by ISIS, which reportedly burned 15 people to death in April for attempting to leave the city.
The terror group has blocked escape avenues and posted gunmen to kill anyone seeking to flee. Leaflets dropped by Iraqi Air Force in the last two weeks advised the 50,000 trapped residents to mark their rooftops with white flags to alert Coalition aircraft. It has been reported that gunmen roam the streets threatening to kill any resident who waves a white flag.
Fallujah, which came under ISIS control in January 2014, has been a command and control center for the caliphate ever since. Its industrial parks have produced hundreds of vehicle bombs and improvised explosive devices that have killed thousands of civilians in Baghdad only 40 miles to the east. Wahabbi clergy from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have held fundraisers for ISIS in Fallujah even while the Saudi government publicly pledged full support to Baghdad to destroy ISIS.
In Erbil, the deputy governor of the province announced on a news show last week that as many as 900,000 refugees might flee war zone areas in Iraq, some from embattled Fallujah and many more from Mosul, according to the Kurdish news site Rudaw.
"We suggest that 200,000 to 900,000 [internally displaced persons] will flee to Erbil, and two places have been designated to take in refugees once the battle for Mosul has resumed," said Tahir Abdullah, deputy governor of Erbil.
Abdullah said that until now there had been no new camps under construction to receive refugees due to lack of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The stream of civilians fleeing from caliphate-controlled areas of the Tigris River south of Mosul has surged in the last two weeks. Kurdish military report that approximately 50 refugees per day are moving into camps in the Makhmour area between Mosul and Kirkuk.
Identifying ISIS fighters disguised as refugees is a conundrum for Kurdish and Arab authorities downstream from Mosul and may partly explain why large refugee camps are not available. According to some reports in Iraqi media, ISIS fighters in Fallujah have been asked to shave their beards and wear civilian clothes.
ISIS cadre attempted to leave the newly-liberated town of Al Rutbah west of Fallujah dressed in women’s clothes, according to U.S. coalition spokesman Steve Warren.
The number of ISIS fighters defending Mosul could be well over 5,000, according to military sources in the Peshmerga interviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. ISIS reportedly has murdered scores of people who have attempted to flee, according to a number of media sources cited by Daesh Daily.
Trusted sources in Mosul reported that last week 11 people in Mosul were executed by electrocution for trying to leave. Two weeks ago it was reported that a family of 14 was burned to death in its home near Kirkuk for the same reason.