The Fight for Mosul

Why It's Taking Longer Than Expected

A member of the Iraqi rapid response forces inspects a hospital damaged by a battle between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in the Wahda district of eastern Mosul, Iraq, January 2017. Alaa al-Marjani / REUTERS

As the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) stretches into its fourth month, the Iraqi army has won applause from the far corners of the globe. U.S. Brigadier General Rick Uribe said the Iraqi forces are “at their peak” and “will continue to improve because of the lessons they are learning on a daily basis.” Nevertheless, the battle is expected to last many more months.


In June 2014, ISIS captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city in the north, sending shock waves around the world. Within days, four Iraqi army divisions and police forces in four provinces collapsed, leaving ISIS in control of one-third of Iraq. Millions of civilians were displaced, and Christians were forced to leave. Within a month, ISIS would gain control of one-third of Syria as well and would declare an Islamic caliphate, the dream of every Islamist extremist. Soon ISIS was threatening Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, which provoked the United States to launch air raids to protect the city.

In the wake of its stunning early successes, approximately 40,000 terrorists from more than 100 countries traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. Its propaganda machine produced no fewer than 100 videos a month which were broadcast from tens of thousands of social media accounts. ISIS continues to make millions of dollars in Syria and Iraq, and its ground operations have expanded to Afghanistan, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

Meanwhile, Mosul has remained the largest ISIS-controlled population center even throughout the Iraqi counteroffensive to retake it. It is near Syria, Turkey, and Kurdistan, is home to half of the former Iraqi army officers, and produces more grain and livestock than any other province in Iraq—the military and commodity resources from which ISIS draws its strength. If Mosul is not retaken, ISIS will never be defeated. If the city can be taken back, the group’s demise will be at hand.

Mosul has remained the largest ISIS-controlled population

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