By Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
The operation to retake Mosul entered its second week with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Peshmerga advancing along the northern and eastern axes, nearing Mosul’s city limits. ISF units in the southern axis advanced but lagged behind the other axes, resulting in operational pauses on October 19 and October 25 in order for the southern units to regroup and catch up. Delays on the southern axis will challenge the operational objective to encircle Mosul if the axes cannot close in on the city in sync and there remains an opening for ISIS to escape to Syria or other strongholds in Iraq. The southern axis is critical to closing that aperture as there is no offensive moving in from the west.
ISIS responded to gains made by the ISF and Peshmerga in Mosul by launching sophisticated counteroffensives in far-reaching areas in Iraq in an effort to draw security forces away from frontlines and to prove that ISIS remains strong despite territorial losses. ISIS launched attacks in Sinjar, in Iraq’s northwest corner, on October 19 and 24, in Kirkuk City on October 21, and Rutba, in far western Iraq, on October 23, resulting in a redeployment of security forces to secure the areas. The attacks undermine the argument that ISIS’s command and control lies only in its top leadership echelon and that knocking out that leadership damages its ability to attack. ISIS may further increase attacks in order to prove its continued strength, despite losses, including large-scale suicide attacks in Baghdad and southern Iraq.