By Patrick Martin and the ISW Iraq Team
Key Take-Away: Iraqi security forces made significant gains in the Mosul campaign amid growing humanitarian concerns and fears of sectarian violence. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) broke through ISIS defenses around Mosul, recapturing the ISIS-held town of Shura south of the city on October 29. The Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) also recaptured a television station in eastern Mosul on October 31, marking the first time the ISF entered the city since ISIS captured it in June 2014. As security forces continue to advance into Mosul’s city limits, reports indicate that ISIS is corralling civilians near its positions to serve as human shields while intensifying its executions of non-compliant civilians and former ISF members. ISIS’s deliberate efforts to maximize civilian casualties indicate that operations to clear Mosul’s center will prove far more difficult than past operations in ISIS-held cities like Fallujah and Ramadi. Meanwhile, the Popular Mobilization launched operations to recapture Tal Afar, a majority Turkmen town west of Mosul, on October 29, as well as majority Sunni Arab villages in the Jazeera desert, southwest of Mosul. The advance consists of Shi’a Arab and Shi’a Turkmen militias spearheaded by Iranian proxy militias, whose participation in operations in majority-Sunni areas will increase the likelihood of sectarian violence. ISIS and Sunni insurgent groups will be able to exploit sectarian, ethnic, and tribal divisions to reestablish themselves in recaptured terrain and among disaffected Sunni populations. Tal Afar has a particularly bloody history of sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Turkmen and historically served as hub of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI); failure of the Iraqi forces to minimize sectarian and ethnic violence during clearing operations will increase the possibility that Sunni insurgent groups will once again resurge in the area, thus undermining the long-term stability of Ninewa Province and Iraq as a whole.