Abstract: There is rising speculation that a constellation of Iraqi forces will launch an operation to take back Mosul from the Islamic State this fall, supported by U.S. and coalition air power. But a trip made by the author this month to the frontlines around the city suggests such a near-term timetable may be optimistic. While the Islamic State has shown a singularity of purpose in holding onto its caliphate’s second city, there continues to be significant discord and distrust between the many forces and militias arrayed against it. This has slowed progress in even reaching the city periphery, as has fierce resistance put up by the Islamic State in surrounding areas. These dynamics mean that ejecting the terrorist group from Mosul and preventing its return will be an even more challenging task.
Since the leader of the so-called Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri on June 29, 2014, the recapture of Iraq’s second-largest city has been a principal objective of Baghdad and the international coalition combating the group. In recent weeks there has been speculation that an operation to take back Mosul is imminent. Some have suggested the operation will be launched as early as October, while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it will begin before the end of the year.[a]
But a reporting trip by this author to the frontlines around Mosul alongside Kurdish peshmerga commanders in early August 2016 suggests this timetable may be optimistic at best. In contrast to the Islamic State’s hegemony over the Sunni areas it controls and its fierce determination to defend the most critical city in its caliphate, Iraq’s highly fissiparous military and militia landscape maintains a common enemy but not a common cause.
This article first describes the array of Iraqi forces and militias arranged on various fronts around Mosul, comparing the discord and distrust among these groups with the Islamic State’s singularity of purpose. Drawing on several days spent with peshmerga commanders on the Makhmour and Bashiqa fronts as well as interviews with civilians from Mosul and other areas of Iraq who had fled Islamic State rule in 2014, the article then describes the ways in which the Islamic State has slowed the advance of its opponents around the city. Finally, it looks at how these dynamics will make retaking Mosul from the Islamic State and preventing its return harder still.
Part 1: The Fronts Around Mosul
The frontline encircling much of Mosul in northwestern Iraq’s Ninewa Governorate is deeply fractured among state, sub-state, and non-state armed actors. To gain insight into how the conflict is unfolding on the ground, the author met with Kurdish military officials at the Ninewa Operations Command base southeast of Mosul, at the Makhmour front, and at their local command center overlooking the Islamic State-controlled town of Bashiqa northeast of Mosul. The author also met with Iranian Kurdish guerillas from the Kurdistan Freedom Party (Parti Azadi Kurdistan-PAK) at a more vulnerable frontline position further toward Bashiqa.
Because the Islamic State does not align itself with other insurgent movements but has either subsumed or intimidated competitors, it is the sole militant actor in areas it controls. In contrast, on what is ostensibly the Iraqi government side, there is a constellation of armed groups including the Iraqi army, the Kurdish peshmerga, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerillas, the Iraqi police, Sunni Arab tribal militias collectively known as Hashd al-Watani (the National Mobilization Forces), an umbrella of Shi`a Arab militias referred to collectively as Hashd al-Shabi (the Popular Mobilization Units), both Sunni and Shi`a Turkmen militias, Christian groups like the Assyrian militia Dwekh Nawsha, and the Turkish army above the Islamic State-controlled town of Bashiqa.
A view of the Islamic State-held town of Bashiqa in Ninewa Governorate as seen from a hilltop joint Iraqi and Iranian Kurdish position called Lufa on August 8, 2016. (Derek Henry Flood)
The staggering number of groupings is a function of the demographics of the area. Unlike the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab-populated cities of al-Anbar Governorate, Mosul was, prior to its jihadist occupation, a relatively complex cosmopolitan center with an urban middle class and religious and ethnic diversity, including groups little known beyond the now-decimated borders of northwestern Iraq.
As of mid-August 2016, a string of Kurdistan Democractic Party (KDP)-dominated peshmerga units lead most of the fronts ringing Mosul, starting in Makhmour some 60 miles southeast of the city. In a broad arc from Mosul’s southeast to its northwest, peshmerga bases go north to the Gwer front, continuing farther north to the Bashiqa front about 10 miles northeast of Mosul, the positions giving Mosul a wide berth. Around Bashiqa things become more complex with the presence of the Turkish military[b] and Hashd al-Watani militia representing Ankara’s foreign policy, which favors Sunni interests. Directly north of Mosul is a cluster of minor Assyrian, Chaldean, and Syriac Christian militias around the virtually deserted area of Telskuf (Tel Askaf) in the Ninewa Plains region and continuing northwest with peshmerga positions all the way to the Sinjar front. Members of the Iraqi Army’s 15th Division along with local Sunni Arab tribesmen have been amassed around Islamic State-held Qayyara approximately 50 miles south of Mosul.
However, anti-Islamic State forces are absent to Mosul’s west and southwest. In sum, even as progress in retaking minor villages has been made as of mid-August 2016, the Islamic State is far from completely surrounded. Aside from Qayyara, the Islamic State is heavily entrenched in the surrounding towns of Tal Afar in Ninewa Governorate itself and has been keeping security forces busy in Hawija in Kirkuk Governorate and the town of Shirqat in Salahaddin Governorate. These are locales where Sunni Arab discontent remained high during the years of Nouri al-Maliki’s much-criticized, Shi`a majority-led government in Baghdad.
Part 2: Mosul and the ‘Big Game’
The only unifying factor among all these groups is their antipathy toward the Islamic State. Each armed actor is suspicious of the other, and it is widely feared that should the Islamic State be defeated inside Mosul and routed on the battlefield, there will be a possibly violent struggle for power among the ad hoc, anti-Islamic State ground coalition. The problem plaguing the hoped-for Mosul operation is the nagging question of what a future Iraq that has been festering since at least 2003 should look like. Each of these identity-based movements has an agenda that is incompatible with others, with each group seeking either a sectarian or ethno-linguistic advantage.
Coalition airstrikes have been described as essential in rolling back Islamic State advances in Ninewa Governorate. Here, a house lays in ruin along the Makhmour front on August 1, 2016. (Derek Henry Flood)
When it comes to the Kurds, they have rivalries both with other groupings and among their own people.[c] Peshmerga troops have gone on the offensive against the Islamic State in order to secure ethnic-Kurdish majority villages and towns or those of other minorities languishing under Islamic State rule. But these forces, which are an underequipped force and positioned in primarily a defensive posture to protect Kurdish-populated areas, are hesitant to push into Mosul proper.
The overarching mission of the peshmerga and the Kurds’ Asayish intelligence apparatus is to protect their de facto Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) statelet, expand its borders if possible where relevant, and prevent Islamic State incursions into the relatively safe provincial capitals of Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulimaniyah.
Kurdish leaders have been reluctant to move on Mosul without hammering out a political settlement between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the largely autonomous KRG. A peshmerga officer who spoke to the author stated that from his personal perspective, “Mosul is a big game” in that Iraq’s Kurds do not want to lose Mosul as a major potential bargaining chip in relation to their cherished vision of political self-determination.
While such calculations may cause delay, it is possible that the Kurds may join efforts to liberate Mosul if other Iraqi armed groups move forward. A bit like the race to Berlin at the end of the Second World War, the Kurds do not want to lose leverage with Baghdad by allowing the Iraqi army or Arab militias to get there first. Concerned over Kurdish separatist ambitions,[d] Prime Minister Abadi has vacillated on the issue of Kurdish participation, speaking of cooperation in July but then in mid-August insisting that only Iraqi state forces would enter Mosul. In jockeying for position, the chief Kurdish commander of the Makhmour front, General Najat Ali, then insisted the Mosul operation must involve the Kurds as principal armed actors.[e]
But peshmerga officers believe the coalition must be very careful in its approach to urban Mosul lest it become a painfully prolonged, street-to-street siege as in the case of Kobane in the fall of 2014. They have instead put forward an alternate idea whereby an indigenous uprising is stoked by external support to push the Islamic State out of the city by local residents who know it best.
In contrast to the hesitation of the Kurds, Arab forces have been avowedly eager to enter Mosul. The “Conquest Operation for the Liberation of Ninevah” began on March 24, 2016, with the Iraqi Army as the tip of the spear and the peshmerga and other groups meant to play a rear guard role. In July, the Iraqi air force dropped a large number of leaflets over Mosul and the Islamic State-controlled town of Shirqat, urging people to cooperate with Iraqi security forces en route to the area.
In a highly degraded security environment where intra-group rivalry has become a zero-sum game, the deciding factors for many armed Iraqi groups on whether to take part in the Mosul offensive has more to do with maneuvering for future advantage vis-à-vis their peers than the overall future of Iraq. Speaking to fears noted above, several peshmerga officers who spoke to the author expressed grave concerns that there could be an armed confrontation between their units and the Iraqi military or Arab militias if/once Mosul is finally liberated. This prospect, the officers indicated, makes them extremely wary of collaborating in earnest with the Arab-majority ranks of the Iraqi army. The distrust, they stated, stems partly from the still painful legacy of the notorious al-Anfal campaign where Kurdish-majority villages were ruthlessly attacked with chemical weapons during the latter phase of the Iran-Iraq war.[f]
On August 1, 2016, Peshmerga officers at the Makhmour front discuss their wariness at working with the Iraqi Army in pre-Mosul operations for fear of a post-Mosul power vacuum. (Derek Henry Flood)
Part 3: The Slow Advance to Mosul
In contrast to its deeply fractured enemies, the Islamic State has established itself as the hegemonic[g] militant group in the areas in and around Mosul, with comparatively unified structures of command and control.[h]
Given their losses in Ramadi and Fallujah and with Iraqi military pressure in Hawija, Qayyara, and Shirqat, the Islamic State will likely attach very high priority to holding Mosul. For it to ultimately lose the largest city under its control would be a critical blow to the group’s claim to legitimacy as the founder of a new caliphate.
Although the jihadis are estimated to be waning militarily, they actively maintain a highly aggressive battlefield posture, displaying few signs of outright defeat. As the peshmerga and their frontline partners such the Iranian PAK seek to defend majority Kurdish as well as Christian villages while containing jihadist expansion, skilled Islamic State snipers and mortar units attack Kurdish patrols and positions in order to maintain a strategic status quo at the edge of their withering caliphate. The Islamic State has, according to a senior Kurdish commander, been highly innovative in its war-fighting tactics such as deftly planting remotely detonated mines in dark of night and armoring suicide attack vehicles, which makes them even more difficult to defend against. This has all been synched up with a much slicker social media campaign than its opponents.
The Islamic State appears to maintain an advantage in terms of munitions as well, as firepower is coupled with its ability to dispatch highly dedicated suicide attackers on a regular basis. The group lashes out with Dragonov rifles, truck-mounted DShk heavy machine guns, Katuysha rocket batteries, and mortars of various diameters. The peshmerga, who have far fewer of these same weapons, complain that they cannot match the Islamic State’s firepower and have only achieved a military balance with the crucial support of Western airpower. Iraqi state forces, on the other hand, are better equipped but lack the communal identity of the Kurds and various militias.
Islamic State fighters have a constantly evolving matrix of tactics that they employ to keep their enemies off balance. No frontline is entirely static around Mosul. Militant explosives technicians attempt to penetrate Iraqi and peshmerga lines to lay potent IEDs under the cover of night and deploy a seemingly limitless cadre of suicide bombers.
Even in towns and villages where the group has been pushed out, they are highly adept at laying explosive booby traps while constantly changing their emplacement from doorways to ordinary kitchen appliances.
From security forces to returning internally displaced persons, the most mundane, traditionally secure interior worlds are riddled with makeshift bombs as part of the Islamic State’s psychological warfare campaign in territory that it calculates it can no longer realistically hold. In depopulated areas where the Islamic State maintains territorial control through kinetic action, it keeps men behind to harass Iraqi army units and peshmerga patrols to deadly effect with intermittent sniper and mortar attacks.
A Peshmerga soldier carries a German G3 assault rifle provided to Iraqi Kurds to combat the Islamic State, moments before coming under sniper fire on August 8, 2016. (Derek Henry Flood)
The use of coalition air power has steadily increased, helping curtail large-scale Islamic State ground advances and dictating the rhythm of fighting.[i] The time between providing GPS coordinates of enemy positions and the resultant airstrike has been streamlined to about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the Islamic State takes advantage of periods of low cloud cover to strike Iraqi or peshmerga positions. In Islamic State-held towns ringing Mosul like Bashiqa in Ninewa Governorate, the group burns piles of tires in a bid to obscure the vantage of fighter jets and drones, which soar largely out of reach of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weaponry.
Yet peshmerga members along the Makhmour front[j] are concerned they are still at a disadvantage when it comes to weapons. They described being far outgunned by the Islamic State in the early days of the 2014 land grab after their opponents had access to four Iraqi divisions’ worth of weapons and war materiel, including up to 450 Humvees.
Many Kurdish fighters carry Kalashnikovs dating to as far back as the Iran-Iraq war with a scant few makeshift, up-armored Humvees captured from the Islamic State in battle. Most are operating Chinese and Japanese pickup trucks and even ordinary sedans along IED-laden dirt tracks.
Another factor that has slowed progress is the tangled web of intermediate objectives that are being fought first. Each of these lesser-known geographic objective points comes with its own bundle of territorial, religious, and ethnic issues. The Iraqi army and the peshmerga have been going after geographical targets simultaneously but often from different angles, with command structures entirely independent of one another. These formations are also motivated by highly divergent political aims.
Progress advancing on Mosul has been slower than many would have hoped due to fierce resistance by the Islamic State in a number of key cities and towns. One roadblock has been Hawija,[k] an Islamic State-controlled town to the west of hotly contested Kirkuk with its prize energy reserves. Hawija has been a principal center for Islamic State militants on the road linking the economic centers of Kirkuk to Mosul, and evicting Islamic State from there will free up forces to work up toward Mosul. Arab leaders in Kirkuk have called for the liberation of Hawija before Mosul.
Part 4: The Challenge Ahead
The discord and distrust among the Islamic State’s opponents indicates that taking back Mosul and holding the city will be even more challenging than the current effort to reach the city’s outskirts. If the Islamic State is to use the tactics of mining, tunneling, and fortifying within Mosul that it has utilized in far less significant towns in the Ninewa hinterlands, not only with the recapture of the urban realm be a bloody ordeal, but its rebuilding will likely be a perilous project if private homes in the city’s warrens are littered with IEDs. Nor should one underestimate just how well the group knows Mosul as it was present in the area during the years of the Iraqi insurgency, operating in a nebulous underworld of criminality colored with violent salafism.
Senior peshmerga members believe it would be best to not fully encircle Islamic State fighters in Mosul and leave a narrow escape route. Then, as Iraqi Kurds and their allies inch toward the city’s limits on the village level, gradually tightening the noose, a de facto cordon for the Islamic State to retreat toward Syria’s al-Hassakah or Deir ez-Zor Governorates could be created, as one commander outlined to the author. While in exodus toward the Syrian border, their convoys could then be struck from the air via peshmerga and coalition coordination. This outcome could lessen civilian loss of life and destruction to Mosul, the argument goes.
From an on-the-ground perspective, Mosul looks to be a long way off. The Iraqi military and the peshmerga are not working in genuine synchronicity. The American contingent at Camp Swift in the midst of the Ninewa Operations Command appears to be literally in the middle of this strategic dysfunction between the mostly ethnic-Arab Iraqi army on one side and the peshmerga on the other. What role the Hashd al-Watani or the feared Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shabi will have either in the fight or in the city after remains very unclear. There is a fear that once the Islamic State has left the city the Sunni and Shi`a Arab militias may set their sights on one another in a rivalrous power vacuum where Baghdad has little or no authority.
Anti-Islamic State troops and fighters entering Mosul may very well be facing a precarious ordeal. The city had a pre-occupation population of between 1.7-2 million. With generous estimates of possibly a 1.2-1.5 million civilians remaining, avoiding catastrophic levels of death should be a key strategic aim. This should be based not only on humanitarian grounds but also to avoid creating a pool of disenfranchised Sunni Iraqis from which it could draw upon to replenish depleted ranks of its foot soldiers once it has been routed from its urban bastion.
The freeing of Mosul and what transpires in its aftermath will likely define events in Iraq for years to come. While the city is estimated to have had a sizeable Sunni Arab majority before its jihadist occupation, a future issue will be the right of return of heavily persecuted minorities who fled under Islamic State rule. There are many daunting questions as a much publicized but poorly outlined military operation looms ahead.[l]
Can Mosul regain its former ethnic and religious diversity? Who precisely will liberate the city, and who will claim its liberation? Who should govern a post-Islamic State Mosul? And how can the Islamic State be prevented from waging an asymmetric insurgency in the area if it is pushed out of Mosul?
Derek Henry Flood is an independent security analyst with an emphasis on the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia. Mr. Flood is a contributor to IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review and Terrorism and Security Monitor. He has appeared as a subject matter expert on Discovery Networks, BBC Arabic, France 24, CNN, Al Arabiya, and BBC Newshour. He blogs at the-war-diaries.com Follow @DerekHenryFlood
[a] In the spring of 2015 similar pronouncements were made about an impending Mosul offensive, which failed to materialize. David Alexander and Phil Stewart, “U.S. sees Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul in April-May time frame,” Reuters, February 19, 2015.
[b] The Turkish military has a camp near the Bashiqa front that it claims is there to assist the peshmerga while reportedly training Hashd al-Watani militia members in advance of Mosul. Ankara claims its forces are present at the behest of Baghdad even as Iraqi officials claim the Turkish presence is violating its ‘sovereignty.’ Iran is known to have advisors on the ground in Iraq to monitor the fight against the Islamic State as well as aid in checking its advances in what Iranian Brigadier General Ahmadreza Pourdastan describes as a “proxy war.” With both Turkish and Iranian state forces present to varying degrees around of Mosul, the fact that the peshmerga are either hosting or benignly tolerating guerilla forces fighting security forces in both Turkey and Iran is indicative of the dangerously divergent agendas of the anti-Islamic State coalition on the ground. For now, the PKK and PAK are positioned outside Mosul with their sights—like the peshmerga—tightly focused on the Islamic State even as Turkish troops and Iranian military advisors are present in the same combat theater. See Sardar Sattarm, “Turkish Troops Won’t Withdraw from Bashiqa: Envoy in Erbil,” Bas News, July 28, 2016; “Abadi stresses Barzani to unite the position the withdrawal of Turkish troops and the preservation of the sovereignty of Iraq,” All Iraq News, December 8, 2015; “Commander: Iranian Army Monitoring Enemies’ Moves Beyond Borders,” Fars News Agency, April 16, 2016.
[c] Although currently presenting a united front, the peshmerga are divided among the KRG’s two traditionally ruling parties, the KDP and the PUK. It is worth recalling that the KDP and PUK fought an internecine war just two decades ago. The two parties effectively have two separate command structures for the peshmerga. Although both the KDP and PUK see the Islamic State as an existential threat to Kurdish identity creating some unity of effort, a deep chasm remains between the parties.
[d] Baghdad fears Kurdish forces seek to annex long disputed territories of Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salahaddin, and Diyala Governorates to enlarge the KRG and thus reduce the energy-rich territory ostensibly administered by Baghdad.
[e] Though Mosul has historically been an Arab-dominated city, peshmerga may well also have an interest in protecting urban areas traditionally having or having had concentrations of Sunni Kurds. These include the Nabi Yunis on the east bank of the Tigris and outlying neighborhoods like Azadi and Gobjalil (Gogchali) in the city’s eastern edge as well as agrarian swaths to the east that are home to minority Shabak, Kakai, and Yazidi Kurds. “ISIS arrests four Kurds in Mosul on spying charges,” Rudaw, April 2, 2015.
[f] The specter of the Ba’ath era is never far from the minds of the older generation of peshmerga officers. Soldiers along the Makhmour front described their positions being hit by mortars infused with what they believed to be suffocating chlorine gas in early April, evocative of the al-Anfal era the senior officers so bitterly recalled. The peshmerga believe the Islamic State has the capacity to develop additional chemical weapons in what has slowly become its enclave in Mosul and that it will launch further chemical attacks as its territory shrinks. Karzan Hawrami, “Peshmerga Official: IS Developing Chemical Weapons Inside Mosul,” Bas News, June 2, 2016.
[g] Having pushed aside the now former Syrian al-Qa`ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in swaths of Syria and the neo-Ba’athist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi (JRTN) in Iraq, the Islamic State does not tolerate regional challengers it may have once collaborated with in its previous incarnation as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). From its absolutist standpoint, more Iraq-centric insurgent movements like JRTN are considered ‘nationalist’ in nature and therefore insufficiently Islamic. While JRTN may have aligned itself with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as it was then known during the Mosul takeover in a failed bout with pragmatism, such coordination could only be very short-lived. Any insurgents failing to swear fealty to al-Baghdadi had to leave Islamic State-controlled areas or be executed. Although its leadership is estimated to have experienced Ba’athist officers, al-Baghdadi’s salafist hardliners in no way want to be associated with secular Ba’athist ideology or any form of localized nationalism, Arab or otherwise.
[h] The Islamic State’s suppression of fellow insurgents has also created a distinct vulnerability for the group. It does not now appear to have a dependable network of fellow non-state actors with which it can make common cause in a territorial crisis.
[i] The coalition airstrikes under the lead of the United States’ Operation Inherent Resolve have set the rhythm of the fighting with regard to visibility. The Islamic State is least likely to move about during midday under hot, clear skies. Peshmerga fighters explained that the bulk of the fighting occurs between dusk and dawn and that during high sun the front is largely silent. Incoming sniper and mortar fire tends to begin right at sundown. Islamic State operatives are extremely wary of air attacks by the coalition that deplete their coveted stock of vehicles, which they stole from Iraqi state forces in 2014. The Islamic State may have an added battlefield advantage this fall and winter when overcast weather could help conceal some of their daytime movements from aerial surveillance.
[j] Makhmour was briefly overrun by an Islamic State onslaught in August 2014 at the apogee of the group’s military prowess and was pushed back by combination of coalition airstrikes and peshmerga ground forces. Despite the success two years ago, the town remains a veritable ghost town devastated by bombardment and scarcity. Author interviews, Makhmour, Iraq, August 1, 2016; Sheren Khalel and Matthew Vickery, “Battle for Makhmour: a frontline in Iraq’s latest war,” Middle East Eye, August 18, 2014.
[k] Hawija was home to a Sunni protest camp incensed at what they considered to be the Shi`a chauvinism of the Maliki government. On April 23, 2013, Iraq’s Defense Ministry launched a raid on the Hawija encampment, resulting in the deaths of some 44 people. Fourteen months later the town became a bastion of Islamic State rule in the Kirkuk Governorate. Sudad al-Sahly, “Iraq raid on Sunni protest sparks clashes, 44 killed,” Reuters, April 23, 2013.
[l] Peshmerga commanders believe that the time frame of late 2016 being mooted for the start of the Mosul operation in some quarters in Baghdad and Washington will end up giving the Islamic State an advantage in terms of poor aerial visibility, which in turn will make securing Mosul that much more grueling. Peshmerga leaders also believe that the regular public chatter about the city’s recapture is giving the Islamic State an unnecessary window to recalculate its war fighting strategy and adapt to changes in the frontline environment.
 “Abadi vows 2016 will be year of total victory,” Al-Iraqiya, December 29, 2015.
 “Christians reclaim Iraq village from ISIS,” Associated Press, November 13, 2014.
 Tolga Tanıs, “Fallujah at risk of sectarian rift after being freed of ISIL,” Hurriyet Daily News, July 5, 2016.
 “ISIS kills 85 civilians in Hawija,” Iraqi News, August 6, 2016.
 Mewan Dolamari, “Iraqi forces move toward al-Shirqat town, southern Mosul,” Kurdistan 24, June 18, 2016.
 Saif Hameed, “Kurdish forces in fresh push to capture Mosul from Islamic State,” Reuters, August 14, 2016.
 Author interview, Colonel Muhammed (no last name provided), Makhmour, Iraq, August 1, 2016.
 “Mosul liberation: Abadi bats for cooperation with Peshmerga,” Iraqi News, July 26, 2016.
 “KRG to Abadi: The Peshmerga will not withdraw,” Rudaw, August 17, 2016.
 “Peshmerga official: ‘Iraq cannot enter Mosul without Peshmerga troops,’” Rudaw, August 16, 2016.
 Author observations, Kobane (Ayn al-Arab), Syria, October 10-15, 2014.
 Mohammed A. Salih, “Why the Mosul offensive has yet to succeed,” Al-Monitor, April 19, 2016.
 “Millions of leaflets urge Mosul and Sharqat people to avoid ISIS headquarters,” Iraqi News, July 24, 2016.
 Author interviews, multiple Peshmerga commanders, Makhmour front, August 1, 2016.
 Pierre Razoux, The Iran-Iraq War (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015), pp. 412, 438.
 Columb Strack, “Islamic State loses 22 per cent of territory,” IHS Jane’s, March 16, 2016.
 Author observations, August 8, 2016.
 Author interview, General Bahram Yasin, Bashiqa front, August 8, 2016.
 Author interviews, Beiji internally displaced persons, Erbil, Iraq, July 30, 2016.
 Author observations, Makhmour, Iraq, August 1, 2008, and Bashiqa, Iraq, August 8, 2016.
 Author interview, Brigadier Mahdi Younes, Makhmour, Iraq, August 1, 2016.
 Author observations, Bashiqa, Iraq, August 8, 2016.
 Author observations, Makhmour Iraq, August 1, 2016.
 “Kirkuk’s Arabs are demanding the liberation of Hawija before Mosul and support the province to accommodate those displaced,” Al-Mada Press, August 11, 2016.
 Author interview, Colonel Mohammed (No last name provided), Makhmour, Iraq, August 1, 2016.
 Author observations, Camp Swift, Makmour, Iraq, August 1, 2016.
 “Iraq: Mosul Flash Appeal,” U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, July 20, 2016.